What Are Oleander Plant Caterpillars & What Can You Do About Them?

Like some Oleander tree, Oleander plant caterpillars hail from the Caribbean. 

They have adapted to life on the Florida coasts and in several other states in the southeastern United States. 

Oleander Caterpillar

These caterpillars eat plants wreaking havoc and inflict unsightly damage on Oleander bushes. 

In this article, we describe the Oleander caterpillar, explain its life cycle, and provide good information to help you identify and deal with them. 

Read on to learn more. 

The Life Cycle Of The Oleander Caterpillar 

As an adult moth, the Oleander caterpillar (Syntomeida epilais Walker) is quite attractive. 

These colorful, wasp-like creatures are a dazzling shade of iridescent blue-green and have a distinctive orange spot on the tail end of the abdomen. 

The moth’s legs, antennae, body, and wings are adorned with white polka dots. 

Because of its shape and markings, this moth is often called the Polka-Dot Wasp-Moth. 

These pretty moths have very short lives. 

The adult stage lasts a little less than a week, but in this short time period, the female moth lays several clusters of yellow or cream-colored eggs. 

These are found on Oleander leaves’ tender undersides. 

The eggs may hatch in as few as two days, or it may take nearly a week. 

The small caterpillars are bright orange with black hairs. 

Unlike many types of hairy caterpillars, the hairs of these caterpillars do not cause stinging or skin irritation. 

Once hatched, the little caterpillars set right to work skeletonizing the Oleander leaves. 

They stay together in groups and make short work of the greenery, leaving only the veins behind. 

This does not usually kill the bush, but it does destroy its appearance.

When they have reached full size, the caterpillars find a safe hiding place in tree bark or sheltered areas of buildings, such as eaves. 

They spin a cocoon and pupate, emerging shortly as Polka-Dot Moth-Wasps. 

This whole process (egg to moth) takes less than two months. 

In a year’s time, it is possible for three generations of these pests to be produced. 

What Can You Do About Oleander Caterpillars?

The best way to get rid of Oleander caterpillars is to keep a sharp eye out for them and act quickly. 

Keep a bucket of soapy water handy whenever you work in or stroll around your garden. 

As soon as you see these pests, pick them off by hand, and drop them in the bucket.

Other Control Options:

Be Safe!

Even though the hair of Oleander caterpillars is not known to cause skin irritation in humans, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

When you are hand-picking these fuzzy critters off Oleander limbs, be sure to wear protective gloves. 

Remember, even if Oleander caterpillars are not poisonous or irritating, Oleander is. 

Take care not to touch your face or eyes with your gloved hand, as this could cause irritation. 

Wash up as soon as you are done handling Oleander.

Heavy Infestation May Require Drastic Action

If they have been allowed to take over an Oleander bush, you may need to cover the infested branches with plastic bags and then clip them off. 

Be sure to seal the bags well so the caterpillars cannot escape. 

Put them in the sun to perish. 

Continue to keep a close eye on the affected bush. 

If Oleander caterpillars continue to be a problem, treat with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), but this should be a last resort. 

Although Bt is not hazardous to anything but caterpillars, it is just as deadly to butterfly caterpillars as moth caterpillars, and we don’t want to kill butterflies.

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