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Don't Kill Caterpillars, They Are Pollinators

Several days ago, I found five really weird caterpillars on one of my small Meyer's lemon trees. They looked like truncated snakes with white and black stripes and patches that fell into a scale pattern and even false eyes. There was a kind of snake nosed hood that covered the actual caterpillar head and if you touched the hood gently with a grass blade, a red forked tongue feature would dart out. I tried to get the local extension agent to identify them for me, but they weren't familiar with them and advised me to kill them before they spread--especially since they were eating citrus. Late yesterday, the University of Florida Master Gardener got back to me and identified them as Orange Dog Caterpillars. They are the young of giant swallowtails that live on citrus. The interesting thing is that she said DON'T kill them.


Too late, since after more than 48 hours I put the jar of them in the freezer since I didn't want to keep stripping leaves off the citrus to feed them. What I thought would interest you though is WHY she said not to kill them. She said the reason that the fruit isn't setting on the citrus and citrus related trees is because the loss of the bees has left us without pollinators. In desperation, they are now saying that it is better to risk a little damage to the trees than to kill any insect that could help pollinate. They are saying DON'T KILL ANY CATERPILLARS ANY MORE! (I just heard back from the Master Gardener again--she said since the trees were so small I could kill some to protect them since it isn't an endangered species)

That has really struck home, though, and I won't kill any more if they show up. I AM trying to identify other local plants they might live on. There are a couple known ones besides citrus in South Florida though they say that the resulting butterflies are smaller, than the citrus fed ones. Unfortunately, I don't recognize either of them as living around here, though I will research that too.

By Jeanne from Daytona Beach, FL

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October 17, 20080 found this helpful

It's also turned out that insects that riddle or de-leaf conifers serve a useful purpose, fertilizing the ground round the tree and enabling it to grow more leaves with the nutrients processed from the old leaves.

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By Deborah (Guest Post)
October 20, 20080 found this helpful

I just recently saw a couple of these on my small Meyers Lemon Tree. I think they are the same as you described. It was hot that day and when I flicked them with a leaf they fell off and when I looked later, they had disappeared.

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September 13, 20120 found this helpful

Thank you Jeanne, for educating yourself and then us, so that all those creatures will have a few more protectors out there. Anne in NC

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