HELP! Caterpillars throwing up green and dying?!

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  • #14691


    Hi there,

    We have had swan plants for years and usually have heaps and heaps of caterpillars/butterflies with no trouble but this year it’s going terribly!!

    1) plants are INFESTED with orange aphids (appreciate any tips – well beyond the picking them off stage and don’t want to spray as will hurt cats) – I have planted nasturstion (sp?) around them in hope that they will deter them

    2) Barely any caterpillars (and the little ones are vanishing – i suspect paper wasps)

    So i had brought some stems without aphids inside with eggs and baby cats on them then they died! I realised (stupidly) that I had left the fly auto-spray machine on in the room with them, so I moved the stems to a sheltered area outside and rinsed them off with water to get rid of any spray that might be left.

    There were 3 cats on them (one big, one middle and one small) this morning I went to check and the middle sized one was curled up fallen off the branch, he seems to be dead now :(

    Thinking that maybe the branches from inside were infected with the spray from inside I decided to put the big one back on the main plant thinking he was big enough that wasps wouldn’t get him (btw he was never inside with the spray). I put him on a leaf on top of a tissue and rested it against the plant so he could climb up, I went back out a few minutes later and the tissue and leaf was covered with green (vomit?)

    So i picked some new (and washed) leaves and put them and him on a tissue inside, he has been throwing up green and is writhing around like he is in pain… HELP! What do I do?!

    Oh, and I am also worried that maybe the plants are infected as my Mum had sprayed her rose bushes for aphids in the weekend (she swears she didn’t spray the swans)

    Any tips relating to any of my problems would be much appreciated!!

    1) aphids

    2) sick caterpillar

    3) can spray travel by air and get into the plant? The aphids aren’t dying so . .

    4) what to do from now on with the eggs left on swans?!

    Thanks so much!

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  • #28965


    Hi Terry,

    The information was on the wrapper of sponge dish cloths in the supermarket, a prominent brand with words to the effect that the product was impregnated with anti bacterial agents to “help protect your family from disease-causing bacteria”. I have since seen it on plastic pot scourers, so I now source my scourers from the likes of $2 shops or similar that sell the cheap chineses ones, which I still wash first anyway. You are absolutely right about the obsession on cleanliness, promoted in advertising by companies to swell profits and keep the shareholders happy, and deemed to be necessary for our health.
    Food items are required to list the ingrediants they contain, but not other products, so in some cases the product may contain chemicals without specifically stating so, unless of course it is a proven ? health hazard.



    Hi Norm

    You certainly caught my attention with the comment that even Kitchen paper towels are sometimes impregnated with anti bacterial agents. Where did you get this information, as it could be the cause of some of the mysterious deaths of my larvae even though the eggs had been sterilised. I have always lined my plastic rearing containers with kitchen paper towels and had few problems until recently, and am now thinking that maybe they have recently started doing this sort of thing in the UK. There is a western world obsession with anti bacterial soaps and cleaners that will cause huge problems for us humans in the future as the bacteria become more and more resistant as they already have done with many antibiotics. I think we will live to regret this stupidity in the not to distant future but “hey” who cares at least those with shares in the pharmaceutical and household cleaners manufacturers will get rich.
    I must check this out to see if it’s really happening over here!



    I had to spray my house for dog fleas a year ago, but I used a sprayer directly onto the carpet rather than a fogger or bomb. The container said the spray would be active for 5-6 months. I have always been careful to keep my caterpillars away from the carpet. Anyway, it’s a year later and any caterpillars that fall on the carpet and get picked up fairly quickly are fine, but any that don’t get noticed are found sometime later dead as a dodo. It’s powerful stuff.

    On the plus side, it’s still working to kill spiders and cockroaches as I find bodies around the place from time to time.



    I am sorry to hear about your dog Jacqui! I thought that if you treated the animal for fleas the ones off their body would die because they then had nothing to feed on? We’ve always just used the frontline drops on their skin, and just washed anything they’d been sleeping on and any bites that the people in the house were getting stopped? Flea bombing your house sounds pretty drastic!

    Maybe? It is just one of those mortein automatic sprays? It has been turned off since I realised the problem so i don’t think it could still be in the air? Do you think that I should leave the ones about to hatch outside then?

    Thanks again,



    You raise a good point about the “automatic sprayer”, HELP. I have just taken my dog to the vet – she is not well, and is driving me nuts. I talked with him about fleas and said I would like to use a flea bomb in the house but he told me that the poison in the flea bomb will stay in the house for 4-5 months!

    No way could we raise caterpillars inside a house that’s been flea-bombed! So perhaps the “automatic sprayer” has left a residue in your house?



    Thanks so much for your help!

    It was just a tupperware container, i had rinsed it with hot water (no detergent just in case) and dried it carefully before I put the caterpillar in there, as for ventilation i left the lid off as he is too small to go anywhere!
    We don’t have any AC or dehumidifier, the doors are open most of the time too. The automatic sprayer is off (will not be turning on again!)

    I’m worried that if I put this new plant outside that the other bugs will get to it aphids etc. and attack it like the others (these ones are only tiny) – I have a few stems I’ve picked off the main plant with eggs on the leaves in small vases away from the garden, do you think I should leave the caterpillars on those when the hatch or risk bringing them in again?

    Is there anything I can do for the one who is writhing around in the container? It hasn’t thrown up or anything like the others did.

    The other thing is, should I try and find any newly hatched eggs on the plants that I think are poisoned? I thought it was wasps killing them, which is why I started bringing them inside, (they only ever seem to make it to 2cm long, have only seen two that got bigger – but there are two hatched chrysalis on the plant) So don’t know what is going on?!

    Thanks once again, I obviously am very new to raising cats inside!



    Don’t give up! The caterpillar you found outside may already have been unwell. But lets have a think about this before you start again. Wash everything with 10% bleach and rinse well. What kind of container? Did it have ventilation? You turned off the automatic house poisoner? Do you have a dehumidifier?

    I would suggest popping one of your new plants outside until it has a couple of eggs on it. Then cover it with a fine mesh to stop wasps etc or any more butterflies laying on it, but keep it outside.

    That should eliminate all of the suspect circumstances from your first try. Start small and gradually build up.



    Thanks for your reply!
    I removed the tissues, gave them leaves from a new plant and woke up this morning… all of them are dead 🙁 I don’t know what i did wrong!
    Yesterday I brought one in off the plant outside, and fed him only the new leaves (no tissues) kept him in a separate container, and this morning he is lying on his side writhing around like the others did all yesterday.
    Any pointers… or maybe I should just give up?
    Thanks once again



    Many kitchen cleaning products these days are impregnated with anti-bacterial agents, from paper towels, sponges, pot scourers etc. and as it is designed to kill bacteria, so it may well have an effect on caterpillars as well. Not sure what tissues you are using, but check the info on the container. By your description it certainly sounds as if your caterpillars have been in contact with toxins, which could be from any one of a number of sources that have been mentioned.




    So I used the leaves off the further away swan plant that I thought wasn’t infected, woke up this morning and the four healthy cats I’d brought in were doing the same thing! The originals that I thought were dying are doing better now, but still not healthy. I bought some new plants (which are TINY) and have been feeding them those leaves.

    I was just wondering, this might be a stupid question – but is it possible that the tissues that I had lining the containers could’ve done this?

    Thanks again



    Darren, its good to see these photos…they’re great! I also find german wasps make a feast of aphids at times.



    Thanks once again! Hopefully will all work out ok.
    Photos are incredible!!



    The aphids do go away by themselves, well with a bit of help from ladybirds. My garden was infested when I took these photos. Now the ladybirds have done their work and there isn’t an aphid to be seen.

    Different sprays stay active for different lengths of time. Some break down very quickly, others hang around for a long time. So each spray has what is known as a withholding period, and the plants should be withheld from being used for that period of time.

    I would have expected the aphids to have died as well if your plants had been hit by spraydrift, but different sprays work in different ways. There are some that kill aphids but not caterpillars for example.



    Hi Darren,
    Thank you so much for your reply!

    They are moving again (even the small one that seemed to be dead!) They still don’t look to flash (kinda dried up looking – if that makes sense) but hopefully will come right… will keep them inside on the leaves for now.

    I might try moving any cats left on the swan plants closest to the the roses to a swan plant further away in hope that that one isn’t infected.
    I’m sorry for my naivety but what is a withholding period? – if the spray did get on them should the aphids die too?

    I have read heaps of the stuff on aphids, they’re the awful orange ones, the plants are literally covered, unsure what to do cos I don’t want to hurt any cats or eggs! Is there any chance they will just go away by themselves?

    Thanks once again!



    Wasps are certainly being a nuisance for me this year. The only caterpillars that are surviving to make chrysalises at my place are in my castles( However soon the wasps will switch to gathering nectar in preference to protein.

    1)There is plenty of information on here about aphids. Click on the aphid tag in green at the top of this thread to see what other people have been saying. Also see our factsheet:

    2) Caterpillars can throw up if they are handled roughly, but if they are doing it for a long period then it sounds like they have been poisoned.

    3) Spray can certainly travel by air, and can affect plants other than those intended. That is why the instructions usually say not to spray on a windy day.

    4) Systemic pesticides get inside the plant and cannot be washed off, the only solution is to wait until their withholding period is over.

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