Young Catapillars Eating Pea Seeds

Asked February 2, 2018, 11:29 PM EST

I'm starting a new garden set up. I have water quality four foot round culvert sections cut to be 4 feet high, thus less bending over. I have 20 in all. Old untreated wood from around my 1/2 acre was put in first, then some 1/4 inch round gravel, then about 11 yards of top soil (all this was done in December). I wanted to get my peas planted so I simply purchased three 3 cubic foot bags of Kellogs brand natural organic vegetable garden mix to top of 1 bed. I planted seeds early January. Today I gently went to look and see if my seeds were growing. Some yes, some are gone. Those that are growing have the pictured little catapillars all over them. All I have is a cell phone (no computer), but in the first picture you can enlarge it to see the catapillars with antennas and 3 black strips down their body. When first disturbed they curl up into a spiral. In the soil, near and around the seed area I also saw many very small white dots I believe to be eggs/larvae. What are they? I'm certain they are harmful, at least to my garden. How can I get rid of them, without pesticides? Please help, Thank You, Gail

Linn County Oregon

1 Response

Thank you for the nice images of the damaged seedling and the associated critters. The damagers are millipedes, not caterpillars. The difference between them is that caterpillars have 3 pair of legs just behind the head whereas millipedes have 2 small pairs of legs on each of their numerous body segments.

Cold, wet soil caused the original damage to the seeds which then began to rot. The millipedes are present because they are scavengers which feed on damaged tissue – in your case, the damaged pea seeds. (Said a different way, millipedes eat decaying organic matter while caterpillars eat fresh leaves and fruits.)

This is a common problem with starting seeds in the garden early in the year. It can be avoided by pre-sprouting the seeds indoors and, then, planting the very young seedlings into the outdoor garden bed. No pesticides needed.

See “Millipedes and Centipedes” http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7472.html