What Eats a Caterpillar?

Rodger Shagam/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The predators of caterpillars are birds, ladybird beetles, yellow jackets and human beings. Caterpillars serve as a primary food source for numerous birds, such as the warbler species, tanagers and canopy-dwelling birds.

Canopy-dwelling birds easily seize caterpillars on treetops, whereas robins and woodcocks usually capture caterpillars that feed on grass and plants on the ground. Caterpillars are easy to catch because of their slow movement and attractive, bright colors. They are found in abundant numbers in nearly all parts of the world.

Yellow jackets, also called wasps, bring caterpillars to their nests to provide food for their little ones. They help control the population of caterpillars in gardens, especially during spring and early summer. They capture crawling caterpillars of nearly all sizes. However, as months pass, yellow jackets decrease in number, and their food preference also tends to change.

Ladybird beetles mainly eat aphids, although they also feed on caterpillars and other insects. They are tiny, spotted beetles with bright colors. Ladybird beetles like to eat small caterpillars that are soft and easy to consume. Gardeners typically use ladybird beetles to reduce the population of aphids and caterpillars, which often harm plants.

Aside from birds, wasps and beetles, humans also eat caterpillars. People in Botswana, a nation in Africa, and people in East Asian countries like China usually harvest caterpillars every day for the high nutritional value of these larvae. Caterpillars contain higher amounts of fat and protein compared to fish, beef and lentils.

The defense mechanisms a caterpillar uses depend upon the species. Some types have stinging hairs to protect them from being eaten, while others are able to use their colors to camouflage themselves. Others have the ability to produce chemicals that repel or poison predators. Behavioral patterns, such as hiding in leaves and flashing their colors to scare predators, are also techniques caterpillars employ.