AUSTIN (KXAN) — Whether you love them or despise them, you may have noticed that it seems like caterpillars are crawling all over everything in Central Texas.
However, before you admire or avoid them, it’s important to know the role that caterpillars play in our ecosystem.
Program Specialist Wizzie Brown with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service explains, “They are beneficial [to our ecosystem] because they are going to be food for things like birds and lizards and other insects. But they can also feed on plants. They’re going to be defoliators of those plants.”
Most caterpillars diet consists of leaves from trees and plants. So if you happen to see them eating away at some of your trees, don’t rush to call the exterminator just yet.
According to Brown, most trees that are large enough have had years to adapt to caterpillars eating their leaves.
“Usually those trees can withstand being defoliated and then just leaf back out. And it’s not a problem,” she says.
However, where you will want to be cautious and monitor very closely is if you happen to see caterpillars eating away at your gardens. In particular, the spring cankerworm has been causing lots of issues with areawide gardeners.
“The spring cankerworms are probably the ones that everybody is concerned about right now. Those are the ones that are sometimes called inchworms,” Brown said. “They can be anywhere from a yellowy-green color, to a pink, to even sometimes a brown. If you have high populations of them, or a lot of caterpillars in your garden, then they can cause defoliation, which could lead to either death of the plant depending how it is.”
Brown says since most gardens are full of small leaves and seasonal plants, there’s not a lot of strength or adaptation for the plants to regrow fast enough before their harvests.
Good news is most caterpillars are harmless and are only around temporarily. We usually only see them around for 3 to 4 weeks before they cocoon and turn into our butterflies and moths we see in the summer.