The Oleander Caterpillar is something most of us have seen here in Southwest Florida. The bright orange and black hairs make them look dangerous. So are they? Let’s take a few minutes to discuss this common caterpillar and if it can harm you or you plants. Oh and do the caterpillars turn into anything? Let’s find out!
What is an Oleander Caterpillar?
The oleander caterpillar, Syntomeida epilais Walker, a bright orange caterpillar with tufts of long black hairs, is a common sight on oleanders in Florida and southern Georgia according to the UF/IFAS. They are native to the Caribbean and its range is across South America, Mexico and the Southeastern United States including Florida. The cold winter weather in North Florida and above leads to a kill off of them seasonally. However they do rebound and expand their range again in the spring. As you might imagine, they primarily eat the Oleander Plant. We recently wrote an article about the Oleander plant.
Do They Sting?
Most hairy caterpillars have a reputation for stinging you if handling them. When the hairs of a caterpillar sting, they are called urticating hairs. Even though this insect looks dangerous, they will not sting or bite you. This does not mean that they are harmless. As you will see the diet of the caterpillar causes it to become dangerous to other insects or animals that might eat them.
How Can You Control Them?
If you have one of these plants and its small enough in size, you can simply take some scissors and cut off the leaves that have the larva on them. The long hairs and bring colors are an indication of its dangerous nature. While it’s not dangerous to people in handling, you certainly wouldn’t want to each them. Likewise many insects and birds will not eat them. Since their diet includes the poisonous oleander tree, they become poisonous to eat. There are a few natural predators that include the stink bug, red ants and parasitic wasps to name a few. These insects have the ability to eat the caterpillars in different life stages without getting sick.
As with any pest you notice around your yard, it may be best to check with a professional if you have any questions. Give us a call and we can set up a plan to keep your family and pests safe. Here in Florida there are many pest and we have spent decades protecting your neighbors. So give us a call we would love to get to know you!