Caterpillars Disappearing

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    I have a couple of swan plants in my garden and had around 15 or so caterpillars on them. Our entire population of caterpillars disappeared over the weekend, I assume they have all died for some reason. Does anyone know why this might have happened and how to avoid it happening again? Thanks

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    Hi ,ive also notied the paper wasps eating them i try to kill as many wasps as i see hanging around the plants I have .
    the shield Beatles will also eat them ,had one do that this year ,its no longer living squashed it same with the wasps.
    the paper wasps also eat the chrysalis when the caterpillar first changes
    had over 45 caterpillars this year, most have changed now and are ok
    ive had 15 hatch in the last week ,more to do so soon ,so a good year so far



    I have come to the conclusion that something definitely ate them. The day I found they had disappeared, I noticed 2 of my swan plants had been damaged. This morning there was more damage done to them and most of the few smaller caterpillars I had left had disappeared. I think it maybe a possum, as the damage to the plants this time was quite extensive.



    I’m always amazed how far they can wander and where they end up. I’ve had them at the top of cabbage trees, over doorways, on plants about 10 feet away, under deck railings … once they get into the final stage and are ready to pupate they will wander off and unless you choose to contain them there is a good chance you will not find them. Its just what they do 🙂



    I have had the exact thing happen to my caterpillars. I went to work one night & when I returned the next day the swan plants they were on had been stripped of all foliage, flowers and seed pods & the larger caterpillars, which I had been waiting to pupate had disappeared. There were other swan plants with lots of leaves in the same bed, but the caterpillars weren’t on them, although few smaller caterpillars were still there. I have searched all the places that they may have gone to, but only found 1 chrysalis. Have to admit I’m feeling quite sad.



    Hi Jacqui,

    I notice that the caterpillars ready to pupate will leave younger swan plants (less than one year old, where base of the plant is still green). They will travel to find a sturdy place or “ideal” spot before they turn to J position (I found some of them were hanging on plastic pot, other plant, window sill). However, caterpillars on mature plant are happy to pupate on it.

    Hope this information is useful.




    sounds like something ate them. I discovered earwigs are a menace too. I was finding gory headless remains and finally worked out the culprit was an earwig. If they have totally vanished then it will be something else.
    In Welly we have no more caterpillars till next season now … well in the higher suburbs anyway :). I’m hoping my last hatches all flew off somewhere warmer.



    It has been 8 yrs, but this thread is still helping people. I recently “lost” my first Monarch Caterpillar, but after doing some research online about what could have happened , I came across this thread and Jacqui’s response, “…they have been known to wander away up to 50 metres or so to find the “ideal” spot in which to become a chrysalis.” Alas, Monty the Monarch (as my daughter has named him), had wandered off the plant, across a bed of mulch, and found a spot at the top of window ledge.



    Thanks everyone for your responses. We have some new tiny caterpillars on the plant so hopefully they will have a better chance. Have noticed some Praying Mantis and Wasps hanging around so as Claire suggested will try moving the plant.




    Hi Claire,

    You should see my kitchen table… although I don't use fly sprays anyway or any other pest controls, the frass which invariably ends up all over my table and also on the floor is enough to turn off any potential suitor!

    The best way, if you don' want to do them indoors, is to buy a mosquito pet and rig it up over the plant, making sure that the plant is pest free (e.g. shield beetles, ants) before tieing it off. The Monarchs can still lay through or on the netting – the tiny caterpillars will crawl out of their egg shell and find the plant.

    Remember, however, that in the greater scheme of things, when a Monarch lays 300-1000 eggs, they're not ALL destined to become butterflies. Some are food for other insects, birds etc. To continue the species only one needs to get to become a butterfly, and mate with another one, and so the cycle continues. What I'm saying is that we (in our human wisdom) want lots of what we see as "pleasing" things and don't want any of hte "non-pleasing" things. Nature isn't like that.

    Hope that makes sense! And PS, I still would prefer to see more butterflies in my garden than a proliferation of the insects that I don't really like. 🙂 After all, I'm human.



    Claire Bear

    Hi Michelle,

    We experienced the same thing in Mt Eden – I started out hoping to show the kids the lifecycle and found that our quite large caterpillars were disappearing within moments of turning our backs. We decided it was wasps. It was upsetting, then frustrating… and now we'ved decided to get even!

    We brought our caterpillars inside and hatched ten lovelies. The last one came out of its Chrysalis yesterday and we see butterflies all the time in our garden now. (For the first time in five years!). We have a bunch of new eggs and teeny tiny little caterpillars, but I no foliage on our sticky wee swan plants left.

    Hopefully a friend can bring us some more branches next week, but in the mean time, if anyone has any ideas about how we can keep our little caterpillars safe I'd love it. I'm not sure if Mr Bear will handle another three weeks with no flyspray inside.



    Hi Michelle,

    I'd say something ate them, there is many things as Jacqui mentioned above.

    However, they generally change to Pupae once they are over 4cm long. As ones that are smaller don't usally have enough 'fat' to make it to a adult Butterfly.




    Hello Michelle

    It is most likely to be an attack from a predator or predators – such as wasps, shield beetles, praying mantises, assassin bugs, or even a hedgehog or bird that is taking delight in eating them – even though the last two are said not to like the taste of the Monarch caterpillars.

    However, if they were large caterpillars, say over 2cm long, then they may well have gone "off" to pupate (become chrysalises). Sometimes they leave the bush that they're on and they have been known to wander away up to 50 metres or so to find the "ideal" spot in which to become a chrysalis.

    Hope that helps. If not, can you give us an idea of size of the caterpillars – also where you are, in case one of us lives near you, we'd be happy to come in and take a look and advise.


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