What Eats Caterpillars? Common Caterpillar Predators

Caterpillars are an ideal food source for many creatures, including animals, birds, and insects, making them an essential part of the food chain.

What Animals Eat Caterpillars?

Caterpillars are low on the food chain and make for great food for animals since they’re small, slow-moving, soft-bodied, and easy to spot due to their bright colors. Moreover, they’re abundant in nature, especially in early springs. Rodents and other small mammals benefit from eating caterpillars after scarce food during winter periods.

Some mammals, such as mice, prefer eating the pupae, depending on the caterpillar species. Animals that typically feed on caterpillars include:

  • Shrews
  • Mice
  • Voles
  • Foxes
  • Squirrels
  • Raccoons
  • Chipmunks

What Birds Eat Caterpillars?

Cuckoo Birds are a major caterpillar predator
Cuckoo Birds are a major caterpillar predator

Birds are major predators of caterpillars. They usually catch caterpillars while flying but can also find them on tree leaves or the ground.

Just like animals, birds eat caterpillars because they’re easy targets. Plus, they’re great feed for baby birds that didn’t leave the nest yet.

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Here are some examples of caterpillar-eating birds:

  • Cuckoos
  • Warblers
  • Wrens
  • Common grackles
  • Owls
  • Woodpeckers
  • Tanagers
  • Robins
  • Orioles
  • Grosbeaks

Birds can have a preference when it comes to caterpillar species. Black-billed cuckoos often forage for tent caterpillars, while common grackles eat gypsy moth caterpillars. Baltimore orioles are known for eating adult moths but can also feed on caterpillars.

What Insects Eat Caterpillars?

Yellow jacket wasps eat caterpillars
Yellow jacket wasps eat caterpillars

Caterpillars are especially easy prey for insects. Insects typically roam around, many being hard-bodied and aggressive compared to the caterpillar larvae. Furthermore, some species are carnivorous and will eat virtually anything smaller and weaker than them.

Many insects feed on caterpillars, such as:

  • Yellowjackets (predatory wasps native to North America)
  • Parasitic wasps
  • Hornets
  • Beetles
  • Assassin bugs
  • Other caterpillars

Ladybird beetles and ladybugs usually eat aphids but consume caterpillars and other insects.

What Reptiles Eat Caterpillars?

Even though reptiles don’t depend on caterpillars since they’re not present all year round, a slow-moving, soft larva is an excellent food source for them when available. Some reptiles that eat caterpillars are:

Do Spiders Eat Caterpillars?

Spiders are known for consuming caterpillars in the wild. Since most of them are venomous, they can catch and paralyze caterpillars quickly and easily. Like any other prey, they then wrap it in webbing and eat it by liquefying its body and sucking it out through the webbing.

Wild spiders may come across and eat the following caterpillars:

  • Cabbage loopers
  • Luna moth caterpillar
  • Tiger swallowtail
  • Black swallowtail

On the other hand, garden spiders don’t attack. Instead, they build a web near the ground and consume flying insects that fall in. Therefore, they don’t eat caterpillars.

Tarantulas and other large spiders can eat caterpillars. However, it doesn’t mean they should, or it’s a healthy dietary choice. It’s best not to feed your pet spider caterpillars because they may be poisonous or carry pesticides. Moreover, pet spiders may not tolerate food such as caterpillars as well as wild spiders.

Do Humans Eat Caterpillars?

Mopane worm
Mopane worm

Caterpillars are a delicacy in some areas of Zambia, and East-Asian countries such as China, Botswana, and Southern Africa. Certain human cultures consider caterpillars to be of high nutritional value and eat them as part of their diet.

Mopane caterpillars can be found in some parts of Southern Africa and are regularly harvested and prepared in a certain way. After being boiled in salted water, they’re typically sun-dried to preserve them longer (for up to a few months).

Nutritional Value of Caterpillars

It seems like virtually all species eat caterpillars. Besides the cultural component when it comes to humans and them being an easy meal for animals and birds, their nutritional value is an important factor.

Caterpillars are rich in protein, iron, and unsaturated fats. A serving of an average caterpillar contains about seven grams of protein and 13 milligrams of iron, while a Mopane caterpillar can have between 31 and 77 milligrams of iron. Surprisingly, it’s also high in potassium, copper, calcium, sodium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc.

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