It’s apparently caterpillar season again. I normally leave a sprinkle of snail bait around my nursery area, and that usually keeps my young plants safe. So when I saw that a couple of my sunflower seedlings had leaves eaten and missing, I skipped my initial reaction to blame the snails and started checking under leaves and on stems for caterpillars.
A pile of green droppings on a partly eaten plant gave a hint at the size of the caterpillar – not a baby, but not yet an adult either.
Oddly, I didn’t find any caterpillar on the plants. Maybe it was a nocturnal feeder, I thought.
And then I lifted the second last pot and saw a hairy caterpillar resting in the cool shade beneath it. Let’s just say it didn’t have a chance to sample any more of my seedlings after that. If you recall, I’ve had previous lots of young sunflower plants also ravaged by hairy caterpillars, so I knew that this was indeed the culprit.
So, now, I’ll continue with vigilant checks on the plants for possible new predators, and hope that the affected plants can recover completely. When too many leaves have been eaten, the plants have a 50-50 chance, and even if they survive, the plants may be stunted.
Unfortunately, the period of risk can continue even when they’re more matured. Remember what I went through with my first lot of sunflowers? I can’t confirm that beetles and grasshoppers helped the caterpillars to attack my plants, but they’re on my suspect list. Plants more than a metre tall – and more than half matured – were killed off by whatever wiped out the leaves, so I have to remember to plant more than I expect to bloom. It’s a sad, sad fact.