Grapeleaf Skeletonizers

When I saw these caterpillars, I got very excited. They were a pretty, vibrant yellow with blue stripes at each end. Clumped together on leaves, or what’s left of the leaves, they were kind of cute. Although I knew that they were eating all leaves, still I was excited.

I felt this way because I was actually looking forward to seeing all the chrysalises that would be their next stage. And logically, after that, all the butterflies!

I took several photos and sent some to my husband. I told him how much I was looking forward to all those butterflies…

And then he said, “Are you sure they’re butterflies? They could be moths.”

>happy bubbles popping<

So I go online and look up the differences between moth caterpillars and butterfly catterpillars. It turns out, almost 100% of the time, butterly catterpillars are smooth, never hairy. And so I stared real hard at my photo… Are those spiky things considered hairs? I mean, there’s really not that much. And I’ve seen photos of “hairy” caterpillars. These don’t look that hairy…

Enter my Google friend again. I searched images: yellow moth caterpillars southern california.

Lo and behold, they ARE moth caterpillars! Oh I was so bummed!

To put salt in my wound, they aren’t even the kind you can play with. The hairs (or spines) of these moth caterpillars leave rashes and painful welts on your skin! The “Grapeleaf Skeletonizers” are considered pests by vine growers. There’s a particular time of the year when growers spray their vines with a special solution that introduces viruses specifically for these little buggers. Basically, it makes the caterpillars sick so they can’t eat and then die off.

My dad tried to spray them, but I think it was too late to go that route. So, my parents resorted to chopping down all the branches of the grape vines, leaving just the main stems, and immediately throwing everything in the trash.

We don’t own a vineyard or anything. It’s just a backyard bunch. But every year, it yielded enough, actually more than enough, for our two families. We would end up giving some away to friends and co-workers.

Because of these skeletonizers, there will be no fresh grapes for us this year. I hope that our two main branches survive and they make a comeback next year. Also, come that time, we will be ready for these moth caterpillars. And we will win.

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