One of our readers discovered a green caterpillar lounging in her 3rd floor apartment in downtown Washington D.C. Her apartment is attached to a balcony full of plants, but she thinks that the caterpillar probably traveled to her apartment in a commercial flower bouquet, which could have come from as far as Mexico. What kind of caterpillar is this?
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She told us that the caterpillar has been eating a lot of basil, which is a really useful clue! Besides being curious about the species, she also wonders what it will look like after it matures into a butterfly. Finally, if she decides to nurture it, she wants to know what other plants will suffice as a food source, perhaps a hibiscus plant, as she doesn’t want to surrender her basil!
We are confident that this caterpillar is a cabbage looper. We recognize it by its light green coloring and white stripes, and because it eats basil! These larvae are incredibly destructive to plants, but they eat more than just cabbage leaves. They also enjoy the following host plants: tomato, cucumber, thyme, potato, collard greens, and plants in the cole family (like their name sake, cabbage). We do not know if the cabbage looper would eat hibiscus plants, but there is no harm in trying it. If she wants to spare her basil, she should get the caterpillar away from the plant as soon as possible, as it can devour the entire plant quite quickly.
The mature stage of the cabbage looper is technically a moth, not a butterfly. This moth has brown wings; the anterior wings are speckled, and the posterior wings are light brown with a white border.
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To conclude, a reader found an adorable green caterpillar in her apartment eating her basil plant. We believe this caterpillar is a cabbage looper!