Caterpillar on Basil: Likely Offenders and Steps To Take

Basil herbs have a powerful scent that makes them extremely resistant to pests, making them one of the most popular pest-resistant herbs worldwide.

However, there are a few pests that are seemingly immune to basil’s potent aroma, maybe even attracted to it. The caterpillar is one such pest.

How do I get rid of caterpillars on basil? Applying insecticidal sprays, soaps, and/or powders to the affected areas of your basil plants (or even the entire plant) is often the most successful method for getting rid of caterpillars on basil plants. Other popular methods include a plethora of natural remedies and pest control products.

Read on below and learn all about caterpillars and basil, including how to identify these pests and what steps to take to get rid of and/or prevent them!

Caterpillars Found on Basil

Even Achilles, the strongest and fiercest of warriors, had one tiny little weakness: his heel. In the end, failing to protect himself against this one small vulnerability was his downfall.

Caterpillars are the Achilles heel of the basil plant; they are the main pest in nature that is attracted to the plant. 

That is why it is not uncommon at all to find caterpillars on your basil plants, especially the more healthy and vibrant they are.

In the following sections, we discuss everything you need to know about caterpillars and your basil plants, including what attracts them, how to find them and get rid of them, and how to prevent them.

Cabbage Loopers

The cabbage looper is a common moth that belongs to the Noctuidae family of insects. You’ve probably noticed them before. They are tannish (gray-brown) colored with figure eights on their wings. The moth flies mainly at night and eats your basil leaves and other garden plants.


Inchworms are another type of little green caterpillar that are highly attracted to the scent of basil plants, particularly the leaves. Inchworms can easily make their way from across the yard, inch by inch, toward your basil plants and onto their leaves once the smell becomes fragrant enough to attract them.

Cabbage Butterfly Larvae

The cabbage butterfly larvae is another frequent visitor in the herb garden. At this point of its development, while still in the form of a small green caterpillar, they have no issues crawling up the plants’ stalks to reach the leaves and feast on them.


The cutworm’s name is derived from their vicious act of savaging healthy young plants the moment they begin to thrive. In regard to basil plants, cutworms hit them hard and fast, devouring them often overnight or in a matter of a few short days. The younger the plant, the more at risk they are to cutworms.


The armyworm is one of the most interesting-looking caterpillars that is known for munching on basil. They are brownish-gray with black and yellow stripes. Unfortunately, they function like a small army. That means once they descend onto your basil plants, they are going to do major damage (and quickly). 

Are Caterpillars on Basil Good or Bad?

Caterpillars are both good and bad, depending on what stage of growth/life they are currently in. As young caterpillars, they often wreak havoc on plants and may kill them entirely. However, as mature adult butterflies or moths, they are greatly beneficial as pollinators. 

That’s why, if you can remove caterpillars from your plants by hand to some other place far away from your basil and allow them to live, it can be helpful to the rest of your plants (especially the blooming ones that need pollination).

How To Get Rid of Caterpillars on Basil

Let’s have a look at the best ways to get rid of caterpillars on basil plants:

Remove by Hand

Removing caterpillars by hand is the best option if it is at all feasible to do so. While doing so, it is best to place the caterpillars somewhere they can continue to grow and turn into butterflies or moths (and become beneficial pollinators) rather than killing them. 

Other options on this list are great for prevention and control, but in the end, hand removal is something absolutely necessary. 

Bt Spray

Bt spray is a product that is naturally derived from an organic bacteria that is very successful against the plethora of pests that are known for bothering garden plants. It works amazingly against caterpillars.

Horticultural Oil

These potent pesticides are labeled with their ingredients as well as precise instructions that must be followed to a T if you want the best results. Misuse of horticulture oil can result in the death of your entire plant.

Neem Oil

Extract oil, also known as an essential oil, derived from neem is one of the most potent forms of natural pest control in the world. A few drops of neem oil on your basil plants, even on the stalks rather than the leaves, are typically more than enough to deter all pests from developing any further interest in the plant.

I highly recommend this organic, cold-pressed neem. I use it on almost all my plants and always see great results.

How To Deter Caterpillars From Feeding on Basil

The best way to deter caterpillars from feeding on basil is by changing the way that the plant smells. When it comes to keeping caterpillars away from your basil crop, neem oil, or horticultural oil, is often the best bet.

Other methods for deterring caterpillars from basil include keeping an eye out and picking them off by hand regularly, applying pest control products, and employing home remedies (all of which we touched upon in the previous sections of this article).

Other Common Basil Pests

Caterpillars are the most common threat to basil plants, however, there are a few other insects to be aware of that have a basil fetish as well:

  • Aphids
  • Spider mites
  • Beetles (Japanese beetles mainly)
  • Slugs
  • Worms
  • Larvae
  • Flies (whiteflies mainly)
  • Mosquitoes
  • Grubs
  • Thrips

Related Questions:

Should I Kill Caterpillars in My Garden?

If you have plants that bloom and require pollination, such as flowers and fruit trees, you should avoid killing caterpillars in your garden. Rather than killing them, remove them from your young plants, and place them somewhere safer. That way, they can eventually turn into the beneficial pollinators that they are.

Will Caterpillars Eat Each Other?

Caterpillars are indeed known for eating their own kind, but they would rather eat fresh young plants if at all possible. Once the pickings are slim, they begin to pick victims among their own kin.


Caterpillars are one of the most troublesome pests for basil plants. Luckily, they are relatively simple to deal with if you just pay attention and take the proper steps in time. Thank you for reading, and good luck with ridding your basil plants of those pesky caterpillars!