Cabbage Looper Control: How to Identify, Prevent and Get Rid of Cabbage Loopers

Cabbage looper is named after the way it moves. During the caterpillar stage, its body arches every time it moves. This insect propels forward by drawing the back legs to the front, causing it to arch. It creates a circular loop before it moves. When they reach maturity, they grow at a length of about 11.5 inches. They have light green or gray color. During the larvae stage, on the other hand, they have a smooth and green body with white lines. At such time, they are able to eat up to three times of the weight of their body.

They attack different plants and cause significant damage, making it important to know how to get rid of cabbage loopers. While many of you might assume that it grows exclusively in cabbages, that is not the case. It grows even on flowers.

The Big Cabbage Looper on a Leaf

The Big Cabbage Looper on a Leaf

Cabbage Looper’s Habitat

These pests are usually present in the United States and Canada. During the caterpillar stage, they are common in the garden and cause damage to different plants. In their adult stage, on the other hand, they appear at night and they surround lights.

In the winter months, the cabbage looper attaches to its host plant and the moths start to emerge in spring. They lay pale eggs on the upper and lower portion of leaves. Within three to ten days, the eggs will hatch. The caterpillars will feed on the host plants for up to four weeks.

Identifying Cabbage Looper’s Damage

Plants Affected

The name of the plant will already provide you with an idea on where it commonly thrives. It lives not only in cabbages, but in other crucifers as well, such as broccoli, cauliflower, radish, turnip, kale, and collards. It is also common in cucumber, parsnip, spinach, tomato, sweet potato, cantaloupe, and pepper. They also survive in flowers, such as chrysanthemum and snapdragon. The severity of the damages will depend on the host, with the most serious being evident in the case of crucifers.


The symptoms of appearance and damages of cabbage loopers may differ depending on where they live. The following are some of the most common:

  • Since they are leaf feeders, the first part of the plant that they feed on is the leaf. They start feeding on the lower surface of the leaf, causing damages that are not immediately apparent on the top part. This means that even if the bottom part already shows signs of damages, the upper part remains intact.
  • In cabbages, they feed on the head. You will see holes in the outer leaves. Eventually, they will also damage the developing head. If the infestation happens at an early stage, this can cause the head to abort.
  • There is also an appearance of sticky and fecal material in different parts of the plant where the pest is present.
  • In severe cases, defoliation will occur. With this, it is best to spot the problem early on before it damages the entire plant. 

Results of Infestation

The infestation will depend on whether the one present is a young larva or an adult cabbage looper. They damage the bottom of the leaves, and when they are older, they chew the other parts of the plant. They will cause damages to the head of the cabbage, which will make it unusable. The same thing holds true in other plants where it is usually present, such as in spinach, potatoes, and soybeans. They do not only kill the plant, but they also make the crop inedible. For farmers, this means loss of profits.

Cabbages Bite by Cabbage Looper

Cabbages Bite by Cabbage Looper

How to Get Rid of Cabbage Loopers

Natural and Organic Solutions

Getting rid of cabbage loopers is possible with the following solutions, which are great not only because of their effectiveness, but also because they are non-toxic:

  • Manual picking is one of the first things you should do. It is easy to spot cabbage loopers because of their unique movement. This is a tedious process, but it yields a high level of success. Look at the bottom of the leaves, pick the looper, and dispose of it in a mixture of soap and water. Do not just throw it anywhere on the ground as it will most probably find its way back to the plant.
  • Companion planting is another solution that is effective in eliminating cabbage loopers in the garden. Choose plants that attract beneficial insects, such as wasps and ladybugs. These insects will feed on caterpillar loopers. Some of the best plants to have are parsley, catnip, and dill.
  • Protecting the plant from the cabbage loopers will not only prevent their presence, but will also minimize their damage. With this, you might want to install floating row covers. This will prevent the larva from laying its eggs, and hence, lessens the possible damage to your plant. A pheromone trap will also work as it prevents the moth from arriving.
  • The use of botanical insecticides is also promising. Be careful when choosing and make sure that the ingredients are non-toxic. Apply the insecticide directly on the leaves after seeing the first signs of the damage. 

Chemical Solutions

Insecticidal sprays will offer a quick solution to get rid of cabbage loopers, but they usually have a negative reputation because of the potential hazards to the environment and even for humans. Some of the most common active ingredients in insecticides include Spinosad, Cyfluthrin, and Permethrin, among others. 

How to Prevent Cabbage Loopers

An integrated pest management approach is perhaps one of the best ways to prevent the pest from multiplying and causing severe damages. In its simplest sense, this means taking advantage of cultural, organic, and chemical approaches to deal with the problem. You can also consider using floating row covers, which will prevent the spread of the pest from one plant to another. Also, if you want to be spared from the need to deal with cabbage loopers and other pets, from the very start, you should plant varieties that can resist their growth. Savoy Chieftain and Green Winter are some of the cabbage varieties that will work best.

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