Caterpillars Eat Blueberry Leaves: Hairy, Yellow-Orange Stripes on Black

Checking the fruit trees out back one day at the beginning of August, I saw two groups of yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars. There were a dozen or more caterpillars all huddled at the ends of two empty branches of a blueberry bush. They must have eaten the blueberry leaves with abandon as all the leaves were gone on the stems that the squishy critters were found. None of the other four blueberry plants had any of these caterpillars.

Funny thing is I found them by spotting their poop. Those little grenades tend to collect under caterpillar feeding areas and give away the hungry camoflaged mouths.

Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.
Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.

Once you see the scat you can more easily spot the critters who deposited it. Caterpillars that have found the right food source will stay put and continue to feed, so their scat is usually directly below where they’ve been feeding. It’s a little surprising that I didn’t see the critters first, because they were all huddled together at the end of the branches.

Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.
Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they striped of leaves.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they stripped of leaves.
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?

The blueberry shrubs and other fruit trees were checked often in the following weeks, but we haven’t seen this type of caterpillar again. I wonder what type of butterfly they would have morphed into. It’s really too bad they chose to eat from that blueberry bush!

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26 thoughts on “Caterpillars Eat Blueberry Leaves: Hairy, Yellow-Orange Stripes on Black

  1. The Radcliffe’s Dagger Moth, if you look at pictures, has a very distinctive red marking on the head.

    I found a bunch of these this morning on my blueberry bushes. I think they are Yellow-Necked Caterpillar. Some of the pictures you’ll find won’t match because the coloration has two variations. From Peterson First Guides: Caterpillars.

  2. Thanks, Jeanne!

    I do think you’re right. The colors may not be exact, but the behavior is spot on, see: Yellow-Necked Caterpillar. These guys were definitely huddled near the end of branches and when disturbed they lifted both ends up so their bodies were in a U-shape. I didn’t see any this year on our blueberries.

    Thanks for chiming in! Good luck with your blueberries. Did you hand-pick the caterpillars off your bushes?

  3. I just found yellow caterpillars with lengthwise tan stripes on my blueberries. They are similar in shape to the ones pictured above. These also group and form a u-shape when disturbed. There is no red on them. I have the entire batch plus the affected striped branches in a clear garbage bag. Would the be a version of the Radcliffe,s Dagger Moth?
    Thanks,
    Anna

  4. Hi Anna,

    The red on these wiggly critters seems to be diagnostic for the Radcliffe’s Dagger Moth, so without a photo we can’t tell what species of caterpillar you’re looking at. You might try the discoverlife catalog to search for a photo.

    Good luck!

  5. J.M. —
    As much as possible we don’t treat our food plants and rely on manual methods of removal. Hand-pick those caterpillars off of there or take snips to a few branches to remove bigger numbers all at once.

    When there are lots of pests we do take to the sprayer bottle and give them a squirt of a soapy hot pepper and garlic spray. Easy to wash off and non-toxic, too. Seems to work pretty well.

    Hopefully, it’s late enough in the year that losing leaves now won’t affect next year’s crop. Let us know how it works out for ya!

  6. Yes I think most of them are right because I just recently found some on my blue berry trees , it’s the end of August and they did that same thing ( they made a U-shape when disturbed , I noticed that they had been in a herd almost , feeding off of the blueberry leaves , one down about keeping them is that they scat everywhere !!!????

  7. One way to find those voracious caterpillars is to look for their scat. Sometimes they blend so well with the vegetation that the scat left behind is more obvious to see.

  8. How do I permanently get rid of these little caterpillars? Is there a spray that I can buy. They have infested a pin oak and a mimosa. Please advise. Thank you

  9. Hey Mark,

    If the caterpillars are the same Yellow Neck Caterpillars who bunch together at the ends of branches, you’re in luck because that makes them easy to remove from the plants they’re infesting. Not all caterpillars do this “herding” behavior, but it does make it easier to get a whole bunch at one time, however you remove them.

    Sorry, but there just isn’t a spray that can permanently remove them. Remember, the adults are moths who lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars that molt several times and then cocoon before being transformed into the flying adult. With a life cycle like that we’re out of luck on totally getting rid of any caterpillar. We can’t catch all of those pesky moths (or butterflies) so we’re stuck with being observant gardeners.

    Remove the ones you can reach and stay vigilant! Good luck!

  10. I just found a few clusters of these Yellow Necked Caterpillars on one variety of Blueberry in my patch. Since it looked like they could have stinging hairs, I mixed up a bottle of organic Neem insecticide to use. If that doesn’t work, I’ll use another organic, Safer brand of Bacillus Thuringensis (sic). That’s a safe bacteria that quickly infects and kills all types of caterpillars, it’s also been used for years with great results.

  11. Hi Ken,

    I always find it interesting when insects are found on the same type of plants in a variety of areas. It makes sense though. If a restaurant has a salad bar that’s where you’ll find me, not at the meat carving station!

    BT is a safe bacteria and if I were going to spray an insecticide it might be the first I’d try.
    Thanks for your tips and GOOD LUCK!

  12. Oh dear!! Mowed my grass Friday and by Sunday one of my blueberry bushes was stripped of every leaf. Upon close inspection,I discovered the culprits….fat striped caterpillars! !! I plucked them off by hand from my remaining bushes. I just hope the mutilated one will bounce back next year.

  13. Yikes, Bgl!

    Caterpillars are truly voracious! We’ve seen them destroy entire oak trees up here in Pennsylvania – from the gypsy moth of course.

    I do think the blueberry bushes will come back next year. Take care to watch them in late summer then for these unwanted critters and they should survive ok. Good luck!

  14. Just found a whole bunch of them on two of our blueberry bushes. They are totally denuding them. This is the first year we have had them, and we’ve had the blueberry bushes for three years. They seem to have appeared from no where. Thankfully it is the end of the season, but we hope this doesn’t hurt the bushes’ ability to bear fruit next year.

  15. Hey Dino,

    Since comments about the yellow and black caterpillars are rolling in here at the end of August, I keep checking our blueberry bushes daily for the hungry visitors. Yes! They seem to appear rather quickly and eat even faster! Did you manually remove them from the bushes? Just curious….

  16. Blueberry bushes are not the only thing these pests eat.
    Check your azaleas and rhodos, they make fast work of these too.

  17. Thanks for the tip, CW!

    This time of year when everything is so dry, it pays to take a second look at anything that’s still green. All kinds of pests will be looking for a drink anywhere they can find one!

  18. On my Rhus in AZ. First time and evergreen shrub is 10 yes old. Common name every green sumac. I pick them off one step on them. Yucky, messy.

  19. Yes, Jovi. Very messy.

    When I found the lot of them scrambled to the tip of a branch, I just whacked off the end of that stick and then it wasn’t so messy. Still, I’ve squashed too many caterpillars to be proud of it. I agree, yuck.

  20. JD: Discovered the striped worms on our blueberry plants (late Sept) and hand picked.
    First time seen in our Great Falls, Va garden.

  21. Yesterday I found the same kind of caterpillars on one of my blueberry bushes. First they were hard to see and blend in with the remaining branches after the leaves are eaten off. I took a bucket with enough water in it and dropped them in. They drowned alright. I touched them with a rubber glove since they are nasty looking. I must have gotten all of them. Checked one more time today.

  22. Hi Laura!

    I keep checking mine but there haven’t been many caterpillars this late summer on the blueberry bushes. Maybe it has to do with how hot and dry it’s been? Hopefully, we won’t have to worry come Spring. Good on ya’!

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