Pest Control

Are Butterflies Pests ? ( You Will Be Surprised )

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For the Question “Are butterflies pests?” the answer would be “Yes”. You may come across some butterflies which you could consider as serious garden pests. In addition to that there are caterpillars which could also be dangerous garden pests.

One might think butterflies are such great, pleasant looking creatures and they are feeding and pollinating on the flowers. However, there are certain butterfly species which can harm your crop. Additionally, there are certain pest species which could damage the domestic crops as well as the trees.

Are Butterflies Pests

Additionally, there are certain butterfly caterpillars which will feed on plants and fulfill their dietary requirements. Many of those species are not harmful for the gardeners. If we consider them as a whole, there are not many pest butterflies which you could consider pests except two species of butterflies. 

They are cabbage white and giant swallowtail butterflies. The cabbage white has been a serious pest specially for the plants which belong to the cabbage family.

Why are butterflies a pest?

As aforesaid, there are  certain butterfly species which could be harmful for your crops. As such  they are considered pests. Moreover, you can find some butterfly species which could harm plants as well as vegetation. Thus, you may consider them as pests.

On the other hand, butterflies are useful when it comes to pollinating your garden. They are attractive towards bright colored flowers, and they would fill their bodies with nectar and land on other plants. Consequently, it will help them to produce seeds. Additionally , when there is the presence of butterflies, it would grace the garden.

It is crucial in enhancing biodiversity. Literally they would be a food source for certain animals. Finally, how wonderful it is to watch them in your garden.

Butterfly life cycle

The development of a butterfly in their life cycle is known as metamorphosis. This is a Greek term which literally means the transformation of a shape. There are four stages of the butterfly life cycle. They are such as egg, caterpillar , pupa and the adult stage. They would eat different kinds of food on different stages.

If we elaborate on the egg stage first, female butterflies lay eggs on the plants first. Next , the hatching caterpillars would consume those as food. They would lay eggs in spring, summer and in fall depending on the butterfly species. Moreover, female butterflies lay so many eggs at one time so that at least some eggs would survive. 

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Butterfly eggs are tiny in size.

Are Butterflies Pests


The feeding stage of the butterfly is the caterpillar stage. This stage is called the larva stage. 

They mainly have to eat as much as they can. When they grow further, their skin would split. Next, they will shed the skin about 4 or 5 times. 

They would store their food. Finally the adult  will be using those stored foods for their survival. The size of the caterpillar would be much larger than the egg stage.


Pupa is the second stage of their life cycle. Once the caterpillars grow to their best and finish eating, they transform into the pup stage. 

The pupa stage of the butterflies is called chrysalis. Pupa would tend to hide in the leaves or bury underground depending on the butterfly’s species. 

The moth pupa stage is usually protected inside a cocoon of silk.

The duration of the pupa stage would last from weeks to months. Further chances are that it may even last longer than that too. There are certain butterfly species where their pupa stage would last for two years or so. You cannot spot major changes from outside. 

However, the cells inside the pupa stage are growing faster during this stage. Literally they would develop legs, eyes, and other parts of the body during this stage.

Adult stage is the final stage of their life cycle. It literally is the reproductive stage of their life cycle. 

Literally when someone thinks of butterflies, many people refer to this stage. They are completely in contrast to the appearance of the rest of the other stages.  The caterpillar stage of the butterfly may contain a few small eyes , stubby legs and a comparatively  shorter antenna. 

On the other hand, the properly grown-up butterflies’ adults will contain long legs, long antennae, and compound eyes. These are good fliers as they have got colorful wings. However, they cannot further grow at this stage.

Whilst the caterpillar’s  prime duty is  to eat, the adult butterfly’s job is to be involved  in mating and in laying eggs. 

There are some butterfly species where they get energy by feeding on flower nectar where there could be many other  butterfly species which do not feed on flowers at all. The adult butterflies can fly from place to place so that they can identify where exactly they need to plant the eggs. 

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Usually, the adult butterflies’ life span would be  one or two weeks. Having said that, there could be some butterfly species which hibernate during winter, and which could stay alive for several months.

Can Butterfly Caterpillars Kill Plants?

Butterfly caterpillars can damage your plants and kill them. As aforesaid, the prime duty of the caterpillars is to keep eating. They would chew on leaves, flowers, and shoots. 

Besides, they may also eat the fruits and some other parts of the plants also. It would make it even worse as you cannot identify the caterpillars since they would tend to hide in rolled leaves and in the foliage.

What are harmful caterpillars

  • Buck Moth Caterpillar (Venomous)
  • Saddleback Caterpillar (Poisonous)
  • Monkey Slug Caterpillar/Hag Moth Caterpillar (Poisonous)
  • Hickory Tussock Caterpillar (Poisonous)
  • Southern Flannel Moth Caterpillar or Puss Caterpillar (Poisonous)
  • Spiny Oak Slug Moth Caterpillar (Venomous)
  • Moth caterpillar  (Venomous)
  • White flannel moth caterpillar (Poisonous)
  • Stinging Rose caterpillar (Venomous)
  • American Dagger caterpillar (Poisonous)
  • Smeared Dagger Moth (Poisonous)
  • Laurelcherry Smoky Moth(Poisonous)
  • Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar(Poisonous)
  • Pine Processionary Caterpillar(Poisonous)
  • Giant Silkworm Moth Caterpillar(Poisonous)
Are Butterflies Pests

How caterpillars harm plants

The caterpillars can mainly feed on plants and damage the plant parts. If we consider the Eastern tent caterpillar for example, they are endemic to North America, and you can commonly spot them in early spring. 

They would attract cherry, crabapple ,apple and other fruit trees in particular. They would use their highly visible web nets for that.

Having said that, there are trees which can recover from the defoliation. Even the birds will not eat the hairy caterpillars simply because of the difficulties they will have when digesting them. As such, it is very important that you act fast and get rid of these caterpillars whenever you spot any among your plants.

Are there butterfly/caterpillar seasons?

You can commonly spot butterflies during summer. That is the peak season for the butterflies as there will be warm sunny weather conditions. Having said that, there are other significant butterfly activities during the other seasons as well.  

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For example, the female butterfly will lay eggs in late February. Further  They would stay in the caterpillar stage in the spring.

How to control caterpillars

You may use pesticides to overcome the caterpillars. Having said that, if you wish to stay green and do not want to harm your plants in any manner, you may consider using some other options. 

You can find several natural methods of controlling the butterflies which will not be harmful for the environment. If we end up using the chemicals, chances are that it would kill the beneficial insects.

In addition to that, you can pick the caterpillars manually. Furthermore, you can consider growing butterfly repellent plants closer to your crops. 

It is vital that you detect them early and try to remove them as soon as you spot them since it will avoid any excessive damage to the plants. You can simply look for holes, excrements, and webs as you can commonly spot the caterpillars in such areas. Moreover, caterpillars tend to hide in rolled leaves as well. 

If you find any caterpillars in rolled leaves, you need to immediately prune those parts. Further you need to destroy them  as well. To do that either you can crush them or simply drop them into soapy water.

There are other beneficial insects which would repel the caterpillars and stop spreading them further. 

Moreover, there are general predators such as birds and bugs, lacewings spiders and ground beetles which could prey on them. As aforesaid, you can go ahead with using pesticides only if you cannot control their spread by the above natural means. Further, do not use pesticides if there is a small number of caterpillars present .

Do not use insecticides which would be harmful for the insects which are useful for the plants. Do not treat butterfly gardens with them  as if not it will kill the caterpillars which could transform  into butterflies. 


Trust this article gives you a broader view of the butterflies , their life cycle and on the modes of controlling the butterflies  etc.

Credit to : Plant Abundance

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I'm Dr. Chamika and I'm a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. Our highly qualified team is trying to educate you in various aspects of the day to day life in many ways. Their mission is to help others to enjoy their life to the fullest.