Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Q: I was delighted to discover several volunteer sassafras seedlings coming up in my yard a couple of years ago. I checked on the largest one today and noticed it was being devoured by several bright green caterpillars munching on the leaves.

I began picking them off and tossing them in the woods. Then I thought to do some research and see if they were butterfly larvae. I identified them as Spicebush Swallowtail larvae and found that Sassafras is one of their favorite foods.

I decided to let them munch, but am concerned that if they completely denude the tree it might not survive. What do you think?

A: Hmmmm…….it’s a tough choice. Sassafras is a tough tree ……but yours are still pretty young.

I hate to kill caterpillars that will turn into attractive butterflies but I also hate to have you lose a native tree while it’s still young and vulnerable. I guess I’d try to find other sassafras trees in the neighborhood and transfer the caterpillars there.

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