Most people visualize a beautiful butterfly when they hear about caterpillars. But unfortunately, they can cause a lot of damage when they are still in the caterpillar state! So knowing what to do if you find them in your house is crucial.
Caterpillars may seem innocent enough, but they can lead to big problems if left untreated. If you find caterpillars in your house, it’s crucial to remove them and look for signs of a possible infestation. Let’s dive in a little deeper to learn how to do that!
How Caterpillars Get Inside Your House
Caterpillars likely started their life cycle inside your home. While some caterpillars will crawl inside, most were initially laid as eggs and don’t know another home. So, you probably had a moth fly in and proceed to lay hundreds of eggs. Thoughtful, right?
However, if you’ve recently seen a surplus of caterpillars inside your home, it’s wise to understand the many possible ways they found their way inside. Knowing how they got in can help prevent future problems.
Caterpillars come inside on plants
Plants from outside can carry full-sized caterpillars, their eggs, or larvae. You likely won’t see the eggs or larvae, and the caterpillars can blend in on the plant’s leaves.
Caterpillars come in through holes or cracks in the wall
Like other pests, caterpillars can make their way into your home through the slightest gaps or holes in windows or foundations.
A moth or butterfly May Have laid eggs in your home
You may not have seen the caterpillars come inside because they were born in your home via a moth’s eggs. A single butterfly can lay between 120 and several hundred eggs. Yikes! That equals the potential of a lot of caterpillars inside your home.
While caterpillars will try to find food sources inside your home, you may also see them crawling on the wall. If there are any cracks in your ceiling, they might find themselves in your attic space, and you will want to address the issue immediately before they create a significant infestation.
The Lifecycle Of Caterpillars
There are four stages to a caterpillar’s life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. It is during the larva stage that the caterpillar eats the most. A caterpillar initially will eat its eggshell but will continue to eat continuously until they need to shed their skin.
Then, a moth or butterfly will lay their eggs, which will hatch within days.
Caterpillars have two paths in life. First, they can either turn into a moth or butterfly. While we like to think all caterpillars turn into beautiful butterflies, the species will determine whether they turn into moths or butterflies.
However, the caterpillars inside your home most likely come from a moth laying eggs. Since there is the potential for hundreds of eggs to be laid at once, it’s essential to remove any moth or butterfly that enters your home.
The life span of caterpillars may not be lengthy, but their ability to continue the life cycle can go on for generations.
Finally, you are more likely to see caterpillars in the warmer months. Caterpillars hibernate in the winter and will leave your plants alone to get their beauty sleep. However, you shouldn’t let your guard down when it comes to preventing caterpillars when it’s cold outside. If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at our piece on what caterpillars do during winter!
Types Of Caterpillars Common Inside Homes
So, you found a caterpillar inside your house, but how do you identify it? Don’t worry, you don’t have to have a caterpillar handbook on standby. While there are thousands of species, there’s only a handful that may decide to call your residence their home.
Here are some of the most popular caterpillars found in and around households.
1. Cabbage looper
Cabbage Loopers reach 3-4 cm in length and are green in color. The cabbage looper moth can lay 300-600 eggs at a time, which could spell big trouble if they are laid inside your house. In addition, their larvae tend to feed on leaves and can eat three times their body weight.
Cutworms are roughly two inches long and can vary from brown to pink and even green. You likely will notice how cutworms roll into a “C” shape when bothered. Cutworms feed on stems and can cause severe damage to young plants.
Armyworms have distinguishable stripes across their bodies and are about 1.5 inches long when fully grown. Armyworms feed at the bottom of plants and can be destructive to future growth.
4. Banded Woolly Bears
Banded woolly bears are probably the cutest caterpillars, but that doesn’t mean you want them in your house. The fuzzy reddish-brown and black caterpillars enjoy munching all plant leaves and freeze solid in the winter before thawing out in the spring, which is pretty fascinating.
5 Things To Do If You Find Caterpillars In Your House
If you have found caterpillars inside your house, it’s time to take action. The longer you wait, the greater the chance of generations of caterpillars using your house as a home, which I don’t think is on your plan.
If you find one caterpillar, there’s a good chance there are more. While a random one may have made its way into your home, they likely are part of a bigger family. So the odds of one walking into your home aren’t super high.
Here are the top 5 things to do if you find caterpillars in your house.
As a side note, if you’re finding these caterpillars outside, take a look at our guide on the things to do if you find caterpillars in your garden!
1. Resist the urge to pick up the caterpillar with your bare hands
There is the chance the caterpillar inside your house isn’t great to touch. Since you may not know from looking at it, it’s better to put a barrier between the caterpillar and your hands.
2. Brush the caterpillar into a dustpan
For a mess-free removal, use a small broom and dustpan to collect any caterpillars you find in your home. If you choose to relocate the caterpillars, ensure it is far away from your home.
3. Put the caterpillar in a solution of hot water and dish soap
Unfortunately for caterpillars, they aren’t excellent swimmers, but this will help eliminate the problem for you. This method is beneficial if you do not want to use pesticides around your house.
4. Inspect your house for moths and other caterpillars
Typically, if you have an uptick of caterpillars in your house, it’s because you also have moths. You will also want to check any house plants for evidence of caterpillars.
You will also want to look for caterpillar nests and remove any you find. Outside, the spun nests usually will be hanging from a tree branch, and inside, they may be on a house plant.
5. Call a pest professional to take care of your caterpillar problem
If caterpillars are still making appearances despite your valiant efforts, then it’s a good time to call a professional. A licensed professional can better assess the situation and determine the root of the problem.
How to Prevent Caterpillars from getting Inside your house
There are several tips on keeping caterpillars out of your house. Prevention is vital in avoiding any future issues.
It’s crucial to take action before you start to see a problem. You should treat any eggs or young larvae you find. Look for eggs in wood debris and properly dispose of them, so they can not continue causing damage.
While it may seem like a lot of work initially, it will pay off in the end. Here are the top ways to prevent caterpillars from coming inside your house.
Interested in learning more about prevention? We have an article that goes into this extensively to keep caterpillars out of your house. Feel free to check it out!
Remove any moths and eggs from inside your house
While you might not be bothered by a moth or two flying around your house, the innocent visitor can provide future problems down the road.
Keep your clothes clean in your closet
To avoid attracting moths, keep the clothes in your room clean. Since moths bring caterpillars into your home, you don’t want to provide a suitable environment for them. Moths are attracted to moisture, so clothes need to be clean and dry.
Spacesaver Vacuum Storage Bags are excellent at keeping clothes safe from potential damage. Consider using them for clothes you don’t wear often or for those in storage.
Use natural scents
There are scents caterpillars hate and that are safe to use in and around your home if you are trying to avoid pesticides. Sometimes ordinary household spices are the key to keeping caterpillars at bay. Read more about the Scents That Caterpillars Hate and How to Use Them here!
Inspect house plants
Inspect your house plants to ensure there is no evidence of caterpillars, including eggs and larvae. This is especially true if you have recently taken any plants outside for watering or recently brought a new plant home.
To ensure you are collecting any eggs or larvae inside your house, be sure to vacuum regularly. You will also want to immediately empty the container and dispose of it in a sealed trash bag.
Keep food sealed
Keep your food sealed, especially cereal, grains, seeds, and pet food. This will prevent moths from laying their eggs in your food. The larvae can chew through plastic bags and boxes.
Airtight Food Containers are great at keeping all sorts of pests away from your food.
How to prevent caterpillars from being Outside your House
1. Seal gaps in door frames and walls
Seal gaps toto prevent caterpillars or moths from entering. You also want to check for holes in screens, where they can crawl through.
Change outside light bulbs to deter moths
This will keep the moths from flying around and potentially coming inside. The Sunco LED Light Bulbs have a warm amber glow that doesn’t attract bugs like a typical lightbulb. Be mindful when you open your doors at night not to allow moths to fly in.
2. Check trees and outside plants
Look for evidence of caterpillars and spray a preventive pesticide to prevent a suitable living environment.
3. Cover your garden
To protect your produce from moths laying eggs on your plants, cover your garden. Applying Garden Mesh Netting on top will keep numerous types of pests away. You can also place a barrier around your garden using aluminum foil.
4. Keep a clean garden area
Remove any debris to avoid providing hiding places for eggs. Any weeds or loose wood logs make for great locations for caterpillars to hide.
What Do Caterpillars Eat?
You may be wondering what caterpillars are eating inside your home. Outside, caterpillars will gladly eat their way through your garden, but what happens once they get inside?
Knowing what caterpillars prefer to eat will help you pinpoint where they might be in your home. Here are a few items to keep watch on to ensure caterpillars have not gotten into them.
- Fruits. If you’ve spotted caterpillars in your home, you will want to check your fruit bowl for further evidence. You may also want to start refrigerating your fruit until the caterpillars are gone.
- Grains and Rice. Any cereal or pasta left on the counter is an open invitation to become a caterpillar’s meal. As previously mentioned, you want to keep foods in an airtight container to avoid allowing any larvae or eggs in.
- Flower Petals. Caterpillars will happily snack on the beautiful bouquet you bought from the store. The majority of caterpillars are herbivores, with only a few being carnivores.
Finally, make sure to clean the shelves in your pantry. If you have seen evidence of caterpillars, you want to make sure you eliminate any eggs or larvae lying around.
Why Are Caterpillars A Problem?
Caterpillars can cause significant damage to plants and trees if not taken care of properly. In the long run, the damage can weaken trees and slow growth.
If a caterpillar is born in your home, they will be hungry when they come out of the eggs. However, caterpillars must get plenty of nutrients to ensure they reach the metamorphosis stage.
Since caterpillars grow quickly, they will constantly hunt for food. Caterpillars eat leaves primarily but snack on fruits, flowers, seeds, roots, and stems.
So, this is where the problem for your plants and trees enters the equation. The larvae will begin eating everything in sight, leaving holes in the leaves along the way.
In addition to causing damage to anything with leaves on it, they also can irritate your skin. While mild reactions are more common, some people can have severe reactions when a caterpillar comes into contact with their skin.
If you have recently come in contact with a caterpillar, you may notice dermatitis on your skin. While the condition is typically mild, inflammation can occur. To help treat the issue, apply an ice pack to the affected area or create a paste with baking soda and water and put it directly on the irritated skin.
Finally, caterpillars can stain the walls they crawl on. Their trail can leave an awful mess behind, so it’s crucial to remove them at first sight.
Do Caterpillars Serve Any Benefits?
While caterpillars might not come across as a gardener’s best friend, they do serve a purpose. Just not in the caterpillar form.
When a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, they become crucial pollinators for various plants. Not to mention seeing butterflies in your garden is quite beautiful!
So, how can we co-exist with caterpillars while saving our plants and trees from their hungry mouths? Well, for starters, we know we don’t want them inside our home.
You want to take preventive measures, so the caterpillars stay outside but don’t destroy your yard and garden.
A garden is an ecosystem, and it’s essential to understand the pests it will attract. While caterpillars can work their way through your garden, their eventual state will benefit it.
Can I Keep The Caterpillars I Find?
Before we wrap things up, let’s discuss whether you should add the caterpillars you find to a bug jar to watch their transformation.
While you want to make sure you remove all traces of their eggs, you can put caterpillars in an enclosure in your home. Remember, not every caterpillar turns into a butterfly, though.
If you intend to make a habitable environment, ensure you have a suitable enclosure. Consider getting an Insect and Butterfly Set Up Cage to give them plenty of space to grow. You can put more than one caterpillar in the cage.
In addition, you want to add food, like plant leaves and water for the caterpillar as they grow.
Finally, if your caterpillar completes the metamorphosis process, make sure you release the butterfly or moth outside, so you don’t risk the chance of them laying eggs inside. You can always refer back to this article to reference if you find yourself with a caterpillar problem again! Just make sure you know the specific species you have!
Wrapping Things Up
While caterpillars are not a cause for alarm, they are a pest you want to eliminate before the problem is out of control. Caterpillar hair can irritate your skin, but it is unlikely it will send you to the emergency room.
If you find caterpillars in your house, carefully pick them up with gloves and remove them before looking for additional caterpillars or moths.
Caterpillars can cause long-term damage if left unattended. Since caterpillars usually are born in your house, it’s important to eliminate any moths or butterflies found inside.
Always inspect any plants you bring into your house and take precautions to prevent moths or butterflies from coming in.
Finally, don’t hesitate to call a professional if the problem is too much for you to handle. Instead, they can use their expertise to find the root of the issue and determine the best removal method.
Best of luck to you in ridding your home of caterpillars!
Ashbrook, P., & Leveron, M. (2007). Collards and caterpillars. Science and Children, 44(8), 18.
Barrett, B. A., & Kroening, M. (2003). Caterpillars in your yard and garden (2003).
Capinera, J. L. (1999). Cabbage Looper, Trichoplusia ni (Hübner)(Insecta: Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, EDIS.
Hossler, Eric W. “Caterpillars and moths.” Dermatologic therapy 22.4 (2009): 353-366.
Hossler, Eric W. “Caterpillars and moths: Part II. Dermatologic manifestations of encounters with Lepidoptera.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 62.1 (2010): 13-28.
Lofgren, John A., and David M. Noetzel. “Controlling cutworms in field crops.” (1978).
Royer, Tom A., and Kristopher L. Giles. “Common Small Grain Caterpillars in Oklahoma.” (2015).
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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