Beware of caterpillars: these animals can destroy your plants – live

Cocktail larvae feed on roots and can therefore leave plants to die. But how do you recognize them – and how do you protect your garden?

A whitish caterpillar with a black dot glides across the ground, and the other pierces. It is fitting that the tomato plant in which the two are in its pot has been hanging up its leaves for a few days. But what are these animals? Did they harm the tomatoes? Read here what you need to know about the so-called caterpillars.



What are caterpillars – and what do they look like?

Anyone who finds caterpillars in the garden or on the balcony may have spotted the caterpillars. This is what the larvae of different scarab beetles are called, some harmless and some harmful. You can find it in almost every garden.

Depending on the species, the larvae look slightly different. In common, they have three strong pairs of legs near the head. The loaf is usually light in color with a darker spot on the back, but some species are orange to brown. Small larvae are only one centimeter in height, and later with beetle larvae they can reach six centimeters in length. By the way, caterpillars are a form of larvae, and some are similar to worms or insects.

Depending on the species, the larvae live two to four years in the ground before becoming beetles. Rose larvae are beneficial creatures that crush dead roots and wood in humus. According to the Federal Species Protection Act, it is a specially protected species and may not be injured or killed. However, cockatiel larvae also feed on live roots and thus can damage plants. However, they usually only become a problem when they occur in large numbers.

Since they live in the ground, they usually see very few larvae. Young animals often stand out when digging or planting. Damaged plants seem to die for no reason. If a lot of roots are bitten off, they can simply be uprooted from the ground. If you dig at this point, you will often see larvae.

How to distinguish harmful and beneficial caterpillars?

The rosette caterpillar has short legs and is thicker at the rear end than at the head. If you turn it on its back with its legs pointing upwards, it continues to move motionless with the foot – by pushing itself in the undulating movements typical of larvae. It can also often be found in a compost heap.


These are rose larvae, they can be recognized by their short legs and pointed head.

© Petra Göschel, Pixabay, License CC

Cockatiel larvae have longer and stronger legs. If you want to lay them on their back, they curl up in a C-shape and lie down or continue to crouch in a side-recumbent position. Potatoes, lettuce, strawberries and carrots are most often affected by plant damage, but other roots are not disdained either.

Is the cocktail plague looming in 2022?

Many media outlets warn of the possibility of a beetle epidemic in 2022. So what is behind it? Every now and then, there are years when cocktail fans appear. Since animals feed on plant parts not only as caterpillars but also as beetles, they can jeopardize agriculture. In earlier times, cocktail years always caused famines. As a result, they were badly destroyed in the fifties and sixties.

In order to know when many cockatiels hatch, there are regular soil samples in some places in Germany. According to the Union for Conservation of Nature, 2022 is the year of the cockatiel (forest) in southern Hesse and north of Baden. This does not mean, however, that a large number of larvae can be seen. Instead, there are an unusually high number of six-week bugs. They feed on leaves and lay their eggs in the ground. However, many affected trees recover and form new leaves in June.

What can you do in case of injury?

Single caterpillars in the garden are usually not a big problem. But what to do if there is more – or the first plants are already dying? The method of collecting larvae is very time consuming. Larvae can easily be attracted to the surface by moisture. Wait until the next rains or grab a watering can yourself.

If you have hedgehogs, moles or mice in your garden, you have support in the fight against caterpillars and beetles. Both are on the animal’s diet. This keeps the population small.

If that alone isn’t enough, you can also buy roundworms, called nematodes, at specialty stores. They are distributed with white water and kill the larvae. They are most effective soon after the larvae hatch, that is, from May to August. You can also protect yourself from cocktails with plants: delphinium and geranium are toxic to caterpillars, and garlic acts as a deterrent.

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