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Imported Cabbage Worm

Closer Look Of The Imported Cabbage WormAlso called the cabbage worm, these caterpillars chew large irregular shaped holes in the leaves of cole crops, cabbage being a particular favorite. They have the disgusting habit of dropping greenish-brown fecal pellets into cabbage heads, making the head unsellable. They can bore holes in cauliflower and broccoli, making them inedible, and up to three generations of cabbage worms can occur in the North, and up to six in the South. It is considered to be the most common and destructive of the ‘cabbageworms’ in the garden.


Cabbage ButterflyEveryone has seen the adult cabbage worm, but most don’t recognize it. It is the little white (sometimes yellowish) butterfly you see fluttering around your garden flowers and vegetables. It normally has several black spots on its wings, and the ends of its wings are normally grayish, and is about 2 inches in diameter. Just one day after mating the female butterfly starts laying her eggs.


Imported Cabbage Worm EggsThe bullet shaped eggs are light green in color and are deposited, by the adult butterfly, on the undersides of leaves in small clusters, perhaps 60-80 eggs. The eggs hatch in about a week, turning to a straw-yellow just before hatching. They mature into full sized caterpillars in about three weeks.


Imported Cabbage Worm LarvaeThe larvae (caterpillars) have a velvety appearance, are about 1 inch long and are quite hairy. The worms are light green in color with some having a yellow stripe down their backs. They feed on both sides of leaves, chewing holes at both the edges and in the center, and on heads of cabbages. The caterpillars feed for about two or three weeks.


Imported Cabbage Worm PupaAfter the larvae have finished their life cycle they move to a nearby leaf and begin to pupate, hanging by several threads of silk. They do not form a silk cocoon as such, but simply pupate in the open air. Pupae can be light green in color or can sometimes take on the color of the surrounding area. Within a day they are transformed into rolled-leaf shapes, forming the pupa. Approximately one week later, a cabbage butterfly emerges to begin the egg-laying process all over again.

Vegetables That Imported Cabbage Worms Like To Eat

Broccoli Cauliflower Kale Radishes
Brussels sprouts Collards Kohlrabi Turnips


Using BT is considered effective when the caterpillars are young, so the timing of the spray is important.

Handpicking the caterpillars is practical in the small garden. Use the caterpillar picker to put them into a bucket of water.

Floating Row CoverUse of floating row covers will protect susceptible plants in small home gardens.

Birds don’t like the cabbage worm, due to toxic bodily fluids in the worm itself. So don’t count on much help from them.

Cabbage worms like the smell of mustard, so if you can mask this smell, which is naturally given off by all cole crops, you can discourage them from eating your crops. Try using a spray with pepper sauce in it.

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