As usual some days trying to figure out what to write on can be difficult, that is until you are sent photos of a very large caterpillar that needs to be identified. A colleague of mine sent me a few photos of this very large green caterpillar that had what looked like yellow horns on its head and I was told that they were very large and found wandering in the grass. Now I will be honest, I am not a bug person, I love outdoors and I love plants, but bugs really aren't my thing, but I had a healthy respect for such an awesome and amazing looking caterpillar.
After a bit of research I was able to positively identify them as Imperial Moths. They were darker green because they had finished feeding and were making their way to get ready to pupate. When most people see very large caterpillars, the first thought is usually that they are causing severe damage to plants and need to be controlled but they may not always be true. We have a lot of native caterpillars in our area and understanding their life cycle and what they feed on and for how long is always a good first step.
In a previous article I wrote about butterflies and caterpillars and food sources to encourage them and often time's people want to encourage butterflies and forget about the importance moths do for us in the environment as well. Moths often help to pollinate in the nighttime hours where butterflies are daytime pollinators, but some moths are active during the day time as well. Even tomato hornworms – who are voracious consumers of tomato foliage turn into the beautiful hawk moth and even more beautiful is the White Lined Sphinx Moth that looks like a hummingbird.
Most moths are usually attracted to pale or white flowers that are in clusters and open late afternoon or evening. Morning glories, yucca, and evening primrose are just a few examples of plants that can attract moth pollinators. Some moths can be active during the day time and can be attracted to brighter colored flowers such as cardinal flower, columbine, penstemon, phlox, and petunia to name a few.
At the end of the day, moths and caterpillars that turn into moths have a place in the environment. Take the time to find out what the caterpillar is before turning towards chemicals or the stomp method of control and see what their roll is in the environment and landscape.