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

  1. Found a clump of them on my blueberries in Rhode Island this morning. Sprayed with Captain Jack’s in the rain, and two hours later they were on the ground dead. Have never seen them before.

  2. I just found these on 2 blueberry bushes in my yard (Aug. 19) in Belfast, Maine. I just want to know what they are? Also, will they hurt the plant or can I let them be?

  3. Amsterdam OH
    Just found some for the first time ever on my blueberry bushes. Trying also to find out what they are. May allow them to live out of curiosity. I have plenty of blueberries. We’ll see how much damage before I say “enough is enough”.

  4. Hi Brenda,

    I like your ‘let live’ approach. Just like the farmers around here who plant a little extra in their fields for the wildlife!

    I watched these interesting caterpillars for a day on my blueberries and the next day they vanished. Was it because all the leaves were consumed on that plant? Or because a predator had a nice meal that night? It’s curious cuz there are other bushes that they could have crawled over to eat a lot more blueberry leaves. No need to kill them this time since they disappeared so quickly. It may have been that they were mature enough to burrow into the ground for their hibernation. See this yellow-necked caterpillar fact sheet from Penn State Ag.

  5. Hey HoboFrog!

    These caterpillars seem well-represented in the Northeastern parts of the U.S., New York state included. Thanks for sharing your observations!

  6. Hi Joel!

    I think you could let them be. Certainly, they’ll consume every leaf on a blueberry bush, but each time I’ve seen this happen the berry bushes still come back ok the next year. Perhaps the loss of leaves this late in the growing season really doesn’t hurt the plant. They’ll metamorphosize into adult moths.

    Let us know what you decide!

  7. Found them on my bushes today in Michigan. They have almost completely devoured a couple of bushes. Does anyone know what they are or what they turn in to? I raise honey bees and would prefer not to harm them but I would also like to keep my blueberries.

  8. Hi Mary,
    The yellow-necked caterpillars turn into moths as adults the following year. If they’ve already eaten the plants they’re likely getting ready to wriggle down to the ground where they burrow into the earth and overwinter. The adults will lay masses of white eggs on the leaves next summer so if you can spot the eggs masses then just rip off the “contaminated” leaves and you may be able to break the cycle. Good luck!

  9. My son just discovered some crawling all over the trees in his treehouse! Are they poisonous? We’re in Charleston, SC

  10. Hey Stacey!

    No, they’re not poisonous. They’re just doing what nature intended…nibbling the tree leaves until they mature. Then, they’ll travel down to the ground, burrow in the earth and overwinter. No worries!!

  11. Found some on my blueberry bush in GA. Figured I would let them live. The bishop should be fine for next year.

  12. These catapilers defoliated much of my witch hazel tree. Will it come back next year. Also, my apple orchid is bare except the tops of tress. Will they survive, some of the trees look dead. Thanks. Alison

  13. Hey Alison,
    Yes, I think your trees will come back next year. It’s late in the season and they’ll soon be dropping their leaves anyway. If the trees have had a couple of very stressful years in a row, they could have a tough time though. When they’re stressed, just like us, the trees will become more susceptible to the natural pathogens out there in nature that can infect them. In a weakened state they just must succumb! We had a few trees die last year after losing a lot of leaf to gypsy moth larvae (other caterpillars!) followed by very dry then very wet conditions. Time will tell. Good luck!

  14. I found these on My blueberry bushes today. I pulled about 15 off to give the chckens and they would not touch them. Made me curious as to what they were that chickens would stay away! (Eastern NC)

  15. Hey Tommy!
    That’s interesting that your chickens wouldn’t eat these little buggers. I wonder why not?! Maybe it’s that yellow “warning sign” color that spooked them. Nature has its ways! Thanks for sharing your experience from North Carolina.

  16. Just spotted (and removed) several dozen of the caterpillars from a blueberry bush in Atlanta! The other dozen or so bushes had none.

  17. Hi Ann from Atlanta!

    Yes, these little buggers really do like to herd together. That’s one of the characteristics that helped us identify them. Strange behavior, isn’t it?

    Thanks for your comment. Now other blueberry-lovers in Georgia will know what’s eating their bushes!

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