Caterpillars – what good are they?
Mention caterpillars and you think about them eating the plants in your garden, right? Yes, some caterpillars do, but these are mostly introduced species. What role do native caterpillars fill?
Some, like the one above, are adorable in their own right. All of them turn into moths or butterflies, many of which we consider beautiful.
Caterpillars eat plants. A lot of them eat the leaves. They are nature’s tip pruners. In the same way you might prune plants in your garden, caterpillars prune the plants in the bush.
Some caterpillars eat the wood inside tree trunks and branches. When they turn into moths and fly away from the tree, they leave behind a tunnel into the wood. These tunnels can be used by other insects, like native bees. Some species of native bee lay their eggs in the tunnels left behind by emerging moths.
Caterpillars are eaten by many different species – birds, spiders, praying mantids. They are also parasitized by others. Some species of wasp lay their eggs onto caterpillars – a single egg on each caterpillar. The egg hatches and the wasp larva starts eating the caterpillar. The wasp larva ensures the caterpillar stays alive as long as possible by eating the non-vital parts first. Only when it is ready to become a wasp will the larva eat the vital organs of the caterpillar. By keeping the caterpillar alive, the wasp larva has a constant supply of fresh food.
Overall, caterpillars make a huge contribution to the health and wellbeing of the ecostystem. Without them, many other species wouldn’t be able to survive and there wouldn’t be any moths or butterflies.