A reader residing in South Texas was looking for a good place to plant her garden, and she found several caterpillars in the soil. She is wondering what type of creature they may be, and if they will harm or help her vegetable garden. She has included a good photograph, which gives us an idea of how big the caterpillar is and its color.
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Ideally, all caterpillars would stay on the plant that they like most to eat, as food source is often the biggest clue as to a caterpillar’s species. When trying to identify a caterpillar without a known food source, a good first step is to look for identifying characteristics. These include things like hair, legs, special spots or markings, body and/or head shape, unusual colors, and horns or other protrusions. For example, the caterpillar for the passion butterfly (Agraulis vanilla) is relatively easy to identify:
Unfortunately, in the case of our reader’s wriggly friend, there are not a lot of clues.
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We see that this little fellow is dark brownish-grayish-blackish, and has no identifying characteristics. He does seem to be wider at the front and more narrow in the back, and he has what may be little white leg-nubs near his bottom side. Luckily, she has given us another clue, which is her location. She, and her caterpillar friend, live in South Texas.
To us, this looks like some sort of cutworm. The fact that she found it in the soil helps to confirm this. Cutworms (which are not worms, they’re caterpillars) tend to hide under the soil and vegetation during the day and come out to feed at night. They get their name because they tend to attack the first part of the plant they encounter, the stem, and the result is that seedlings get cut down.
We want to assure our reader that this caterpillar poses no risk to her or any pets she may have. Unfortunately, the presence of any cutworm species does not bode well for her garden. Before planting, she may want to ask an expert at a local garden shop if they can more-positively identify this critter and if they have advice for controlling them. We wish her, and her nascent garden, the best of luck.