Bougainvillea Plant Pests: Learn More About Bougainvillea Loopers

Pink And Red Bougainvillea Plants
(Image credit: SULTAN AKHTAR)

Few plants better represent warm weather climates than the bougainvillea, with its bright bracts and lush growth. Many bougainvillea owners may find themselves at a loss when suddenly their healthy bougainvillea vine looks as though a mysterious night-time intruder has eaten away at all the leaves. This damage is caused by bougainvillea loopers. While not deadly to the plant, their damage is unsightly. Learn how to control the bougainvillea looper caterpillar below.

What Does a Bougainvillea Looper Caterpillar Look Like?

Bougainvillea loopers are small, worm-like caterpillars that are commonly called “inchworms.” They will move by bunching up their body and then stretching back out, as though they are measuring the space. The bougainvillea looper caterpillar will be yellow, green, or brown and will be found on bougainvillea, but may also be found on plants from the same family as the bougainvillea, such as four o'clocks and amaranthus. These bougainvillea worms are the larva of the somber carpet moth. This moth is small, only about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) wide, and has brown wings.

Signs of Bougainvillea Caterpillar Damage

Normally, you won't know you have bougainvillea loopers until you see their damage. These bougainvillea plant pests are very hard to spot, as they tend to blend into the plant and feed only at night, while hiding deep in the plant during the day. The signs that you have bougainvillea looper caterpillar is mainly damage to the leaves. The edges of the bougainvillea leaves will look chewed on and have a scalloped edge. A heavy infestation may even result in tender shoots being eaten and even complete defoliation of the affected bougainvillea vine. While the damage may look terrible, bougainvillea caterpillar damage will not kill a mature, healthy bougainvillea vine. However, it may be a threat to a very young bougainvillea plant.

How to Control Bougainvillea Looper Caterpillars

Bougainvillea loopers have many natural predators, such as birds and omnivorous animals. Attracting these animals to your yard can help keep the bougainvillea looper caterpillar population under control. Even with natural predators, bougainvillea loopers can sometimes multiply faster than the predators can eat. In these cases, you may want to spray the plant with a pesticide. Neem oil and bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are effective against these bougainvillea plant pests. Not all pesticides will have an effect on bougainvillea loopers, though. Check the packaging of your chosen pesticide to see if it affects caterpillars. If it does not, then it will not be useful against the bougainvillea looper caterpillar.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007. She holds degrees from Cleveland State University and Northern Kentucky University. She is an avid gardener with a passion for community, and is a recipient of the Master Gardeners of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award.