Reasons to tolerate caterpillars

Over the last few years we have noticed more and more caterpillars on the trees.  It wasn’t something I considered very much when we started planting them.  I was thinking about the trees, growing and producing firewood and fruit, maybe doing crafty things with twigs and fibre and exciting things with tree sap. It seems daft, but I hadn’t really considered the new habitat we are creating, albeit slowly.  The insects eat the trees and other things – birds and mammals – eat the insects.  As well as learning more flowers and plant species I am therefore learning more insects as well.  It is a little frustrating, since there is lots of information about butterflies, slightly less easily available about moths, but rather less about their larva.  I spotted a new one today with a fiery bum.  I think it’s a pebble prominent moth caterpillar.  There were a few feeding on one of the aspen trees, which would fit.  I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the moths.

Prominent moth caterpilar july 2017
Possily prominent moth caterpilar

We’re getting lots of looper caterpillars on the alders as well at the moment – possibly magpie moths, which are very common here.  When they’re undisturbed they feed in a continuous stream of caterpillars, but when they sense danger they all rear up and pretend, rather unconvincingly to be twigs.  When they are larger, and single I guess it works better, but I think they’re very cute.  Funnily enough we haven’t seen many sawfly larvae on the gooseberries this year.


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I’m also getting lots of caterpillars in the polytunnel.  Generally they are bright green ones eating the brassica, which I don’t mind much at this time of year (although I know it’s dangerous to encourage these things or you end up with a plague).  However I did find a few that had wandered onto my little apricot tree (which is still doing quite well) and were munching away, so I’m afraid they got relocated outside!

I spotted one chrysalis on a seed tray outside which I’ve left be, and I find them all the time if digging in the polytunnel.

Then there are the more glamorous adults.  These are two new ones for me this year: a  dark green fritillary and a common blue.  Neither is particularly rare, just I’ve never seen them in Glendale before.

dark green fritillery crop jul2017
Dark green fritillary on thistle
Common blue butterfly in gully

9 thoughts on “Reasons to tolerate caterpillars

  1. J > Thanks for this interesting post – all the more so for it being from the perspective of joining you on a journey of discovery. We’ve set aside (ie fenced off) certain areas of our croft for wildlife (and we may in time create more, each offering different habitats), and the productive majority we’re working towards being managed in a bio-diverse manner. We do have butterfiles (and therefore presumably also caterpillers!), but if there’s any as fascinating and beautiful as some of those in this post of yours, well we have been (alas!) too busy to notice. Note to self: …

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  2. Hi there, that’s a lovely post. A great reminder to all of us that the natural world is one big network and every part is important. We don’t get the blue butterflies here and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the green fritillary either. Very pretty!

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    1. Thank you Anni. We’re lucky that we don’t need to rely on our produce. I’m sure if my families survival depended on no one else eating my plants I would be a lot less tolerant! However, in the meantime I am guiding the plants to grow what I like and the butterflies (etc.) seem to reaping the benefit also.


      1. A good point about if any of us really needed to eat the food we are producing because there was nothing else. However I am coming to the view that even if that were the case there is something to be said for ensuring the other creatures in the ecosystem get their fair share (not necessarily more) because in the long run it makes the ecosystem more balanced and better for everyone / everybeing.

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  3. Great that you’ve got more wildlife to support wildlife. I’ve noticed this upward trend in my own garden but sadly don’t know the names of most insects.

    I feel a sense of dismay whenever I disturb a chrysalis. Hopefully, the ones I found in the soil or leaf litter still made it to adulthood.


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