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Mystery Munchers

Captain Cook, HI

I'm growing strawberries in towers I designed and built. The plants are doing well, but they have attracted an insect pest. The damage occurs on plants that are in the upper part of the 6' tall towers. This tells me the pests are flying insects, for I'm sure a ground insect would eat the first leaf it came to.

No sign of them during the day, so I'll be going out tonight to see if I can find one of the critters at work. In case I fail (or the bugs operate only during the graveyard shift), I thought that one of Dave's experts might link the leaf damage to a specific pest.

Thanks in advance.

Thumbnail by spartan3
Northern California, CA(Zone 9b)

I am no expert but it looks like caterpillar damage. They can eat at night to protect themselves from being dinner. http://www.wildlifeinsight.com/guide-to-british-caterpillars/caterpillar-survival-strategies/

Some are difficult to see as they can camouflage themselves so well. Have you noticed any caterpillar doo?

Before you use any method to kill them, if in fact that is what they are, pause and think if maybe you can share a few leaves. If the damage is not extensive, you might be rewarded with some beautiful butterflies.

One of my biggest regrets was killing lots of Monarch caterpillars 1 day that were eating a passion flower vine. Years later I read how they would have only fed a few weeks, not killing the plant. I so regret my ignorant deed, even many years later. Another time I killed a beautiful tomato hornworm found on a tomato plant. I only found 1. How selfish of me not to share a few leaves. I deprived the world of a magnificent Sphinx moth.

However I have killed those tiny green caterpillars by the dozen when they would eat my petunia flowers. I used Bt. and it was a great success with just 1 spraying. I never felt even a pang of guilt. LOL

This article may help you. Plus it covers why the damage is high up and why it is happening in the fall.
"Caterpillars can be a major pest of fall vegetables......................"

"For caterpillars to infest your garden, a moth must first fly in and lay eggs on your plants. Eggs may be laid singly or in clusters. A small caterpillar will hatch from each egg a few days later. As caterpillars feed, they grow larger and often change color. Most caterpillars feed for two to three weeks, and then enter a cocoon."

Read more at: https://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2013/09/controlling-caterpillars-in-vegetable-gardens/"

In Hawaii, how long will your strawberry season go? I am so jealous you live there!

Thumbnail by Kell
Captain Cook, HI


Thanks for your prompt and helpful post. From what I saw online, it does look like caterpillar damage . I do daily maintenance on the plants (trimming runners, mostly), and I've not seen any caterpillars, so I don't know where they might be hiding.

Anyway, I went out last night to check the plants for pests. All I found was a brown beetle about 3/8" long. I didn't make a thorough search because I wasn't sure how long the battery in my flashlight would last. There are no street lights in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates (HOVE), where I live, so dark is DARK. I'll go out again tonight, better equipped.

I may use some BT spray and see if that solves the problem. I'm setting up a market garden, so I can't afford to be soft-hearted where bugs are concerned.

The growing season in HOVE is year round. The low in "winter" is about fifty-five degrees, but most of the time it's in the low sixties. The highs are usually in the seventies. The highs in the warmer season reach eighty. There are only two seasons. To translate this into growing terms, there are two small lettuce farms not far from where I live, and they grow year round.

A drawback to growing vegetables in HOVE is the lack of dirt. It's all lava rock. All my stuff will be grown in containers filled with a potting mix, which makes setting up a garden a bit expensive. As does watering, because most of the water has to be hauled in. On the other hand, a really good tomato brings a pretty penny.

I'll keep you posted as to what I find.


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