Plant Clinic

Cocoons on papaya plant a good thing


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Q. What is it? I found this on my papaya plant. What should I do?

V.C., via email

What you have found are the cocoons of a beneficial wasp that has killed the papaya hornworm (the green caterpillar on your papaya). This wasp species can’t sting people and is very small.

Allow the cocoons to stay outside to let the adult wasps emerge. They will continue to keep the hornworms under control.

The papaya hornworm is the caterpillar of a sphinx moth (there are many species of sphinx moths in Florida). This caterpillar feeds on the leaves, but usually not enough to harm the papaya plant. However, if your plant is still small, you can hand-pick the caterpillars off.

Keep in that if you are not seeing any plant damage or just minor damage, usually there is no need to worry about the insects you find. After all, less than 1 percent of insects that you see are ones that may (but not necessarily) need controlling. Pesticides are last thing that should be tried. Other ways are safer for you and the environment and very effective in keeping pests in check..

Adrian Hunsberger is an entomologist/horticulturist with the UF/IFAS Miami-Dade Extension office. Write to Plant Clinic, 18710 SW 288th St., Homestead, FL 33030; e-mail

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