A reader found these “worms” on the bushes near the fence in her yard in Redfield, Arkansas: These are actually not worms… they are caterpillars, which is just another way of saying they are moth or butterfly larvae! So, what kind of caterpillars did our reader find?
Identifying the species of a caterpillar can be a difficult task! This stems from the fact that there are over 20,000 different species of caterpillars around the globe. Among the thousands of different species of caterpillars, appearances can be deceiving. Two larvae of the same species might not resemble each other, while two larvae of entirely different species might appear to be identical. However, the caterpillars our reader found have very distinctive looks, which makes the process of identifying them simpler. The larvae-in-question have black bodies with yellow patterning, white spines, and bright red legs and heads. We believe these are Datana major larvae, which are more commonly referred to as azalea caterpillars.
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Azalea caterpillars primarily eat only azaleas, but they have also been recorded eating apple, red oak, bog rosemary, and blueberry. Like most other caterpillars, azalea caterpillars can defoliate plants very quickly when left alone by humans and predators. In fact, azalea caterpillars can eat at such an alarming rate that they often defoliate most of a plant before they are even noticed by humans. In the photo our reader sent, it looks like they have already cleared off the leaves from a few branches! Even though the defoliation is alarming, most healthy trees and plants can recover from a caterpillar infestation. If our reader wants to get rid of these caterpillars, she can simply remove them by hand. Despite their intimidating spines, it is safe to do so.
To end, one of our reader’s found plenty of azalea caterpillars in a plant in her yard. These caterpillars are in the process of defoliating the plant, but the plants should bounce back fine for next season.
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