Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths (members of order lepidoptera), they belong to the kingdom animalia. The word caterpillar is derived from middle English words catripel, a caterpillar which is an alteration of the old north French word “Catepelose” in which cat means” cat” and “pelose” means hairy.
Most of the caterpillars have soft and cylindrical bodies consisting of multiple segments covered with tiny hairs called setae. The head of the caterpillar has six pairs of small eyes. their eyes can differentiate between light and dark but cannot detect images. Caterpillars have more than six legs in which three pairs are true legs located on its thoracic segment and several pairs of short fleshy false legs called prolegs on the abdomen.
The body of the caterpillar is covered with an outer covering called an exoskeleton. Its soft body has around 4000 muscles with a head having 248 muscles alone. Caterpillars have a voracious appetites meaning they generally feed on leaves of different types of plants. Some of the species are insectivores and cannibals and eat insects or other small animals.
Leaf eating species can cause extreme damage to fruit-bearing trees, crops, ornamental plants, and economically important trees and shrubs hence making them common plant pests. Some of the caterpillars also possess a specialized underwater respiratory structure that enables them to survive in aquatic habitat.
The appearance of Caterpillars is highly variable and comes in different sizes, shape,s and colors depending on their species. Some of these caterpillars may have soft smooth colorful bodies. while some may have furry bodies, spiky bodies or having interesting camouflage markings. The coloration in caterpillars plays a fundamental role in their ability to protect themselves from predators. They have various types of defense mechanisms most of the caterpillars use thanatosis which is also known as playing dead.
Other defense strategies used by caterpillars include camouflaging with leaves and stems of plants, the release of foul-smelling chemicals, generation of vibrational signals and production of noises such as chirps.
Due to their small worm-like shape, they are preyed upon by various species of animals, but their main predators are birds and other large insects such as wasps.
There are approximately more than 180000 various species of caterpillar all around us and it is estimated that there are many more that are undiscovered as new species of butterflies and moths are regularly found.
Some species of caterpillar are highly poisonous particularly those found in tropical rain forests while some are only toxic in their caterpillar form, meaning they no longer have venom when they turn into butterflies or moths. The caterpillars that have a large amount of hair on their body or are distinctively colored are most likely to be poisonous.
These stinging types of caterpillars have hollow bristles that contain poisonous toxins. When you touch these caterpillars, they release these venomous toxins can mild reactions like stinging and itching. A caterpillar identification chart can help you identify the different types of caterpillars.
How To Identify Them?
If you have found a caterpillar in your garden and wondering what it will turn into or if it will damage your garden, then this caterpillar identification guide will answer many of your questions. This caterpillar identification chart will help you identify and distinguish one caterpillar from the other easily.
To identify a caterpillar, it is important to take notes of their physical features, colors, size, behavior, and markings. Another reason to identify caterpillars is to know which ones are not to be tempered with since some caterpillars can be dangerous or poisonous.
This article will let you know how to identify them properly with the help of pictures of different caterpillars and their unique characteristics. Read on for enlightenment….
Types Of Caterpillars (With Name And Picture)
As there are many types of caterpillars having different appearance and having various characteristics which makes their identification difficult. But you can identify them by knowing about their unique physical characteristics. So let us look in more detail at these fascinating creatures.
Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillar (Manduca Sexta)
Tobacco hornworm caterpillars feed upon tobacco and other plants. This caterpillar is robust and bright green in colour and has black margins on their white stripes and it has a red horn.
Its larvae can grow upto 70 millimeters in length.
They are harmless to humans and are sometimes kept as pets by children throughout its range. Though considered a common garden pest they feed upon the leaves of solanaceous plants principally tobacco and tomato and hence can cause significant economic damage to these crops.
The tobacco hornworm caterpillar looks very similar to the tomato hornworm. body marking and horn coloration can be used to distinguish these two species. Tomato hornworm has eight V-shaped markings on the body and has black horn while tobacco hornworm has seven white diagonal lines with black border.
Tobacco hornworms are non-toxic caterpillars, so it will not do any harm if you touch it. They are often used as a model organism for biomedical and biological scientific experiments. When grown up they transform into hawk moths.
Cecropia caterpillar is greenish-blue and has two rows of red, yellow, and blue spiny tubercles on its body and is about 4 inches in length. Unlike most other caterpillars with bristles cecropia is nonpoisonous. When it grows up it transforms into Cecropia moth which is the largest north American moth. The cecropia caterpillar feeds mainly on plum, cherry, maple, box elder, birch but also feeds upon leaves of many trees and shrubs like linden, elm, lilac, sassafras. Even though it feeds on a wide range of host plants this caterpillar is not considered a serious pest.
Because of its large size and bizarre appearance, it has become favorite of collectors.
American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
These cute caterpillars may seem harmless, but they are indeed poisonous. American dagger moth caterpillars are fuzzy, bright yellow green with black bristles that resemble eyebrows. The caterpillar may grow if 2 inches and are often found on the soil near their host tree. They mainly feed on the leaves of alder, maple, oak, willow and other hardwood trees in yard parks, forests throughout the growing season. so, if you find a fuzzy caterpillar in your backyard it might be this one but make sure you do not touch it.
Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio Demodocus)
The citrus swallowtail caterpillar transforms into a beautiful large black and pale-yellow butterfly that are most frequently seen in South African gardens. The caterpillar is green and has densely marked spots in black and yellow on its body and has a band of dummy eyes.
This caterpillar can attain a maximum length of about 4.5 centimeters.
The caterpillars are often found munching on citrus trees and can be considered a pest of many citrus species and can cause considerable damage to young trees. The caterpillar also produces citrus smell. Citrus swallowtails are nonpoisonous caterpillars.
Orange Dog Caterpillar
Orange dog caterpillars are dark brown with creamy white, mottled markings. They look like bird droppings. They can grow upto 2 inches long. These caterpillars have special glands called an osmeterium that emits foul odor when the caterpillar is threatened and can be fatal to many insects. The orange osmeterium looks like a forked snake tongue.
This caterpillar feeds on leaves of citrus plants. Also feeds on leaves of other plants including fennel, prickly ash, and rue. Even though the caterpillar looks eerie they are harmless and will not sting. So, if you found them be sure to leave them plenty of citrus leaves to munch on.
White Admiral Caterpillar
The white admiral caterpillars are green in color, and the body is covered in large multi-branched brown spines. They camouflage themself by resembling bird droppings. This caterpillar is mostly found on hardwood trees. Caterpillars eat the leaves of poplar, birch, willow, and other deciduous trees. Although this caterpillar looks as if it could be painful or toxic, they are perfectly safe to handle. The butterfly that emerges out from this species can be black and white, dark red, purple, and shades of blue.
Puss Caterpillar (Megalopyge Opercularis)
Puss caterpillar is also known as the southern funnel caterpillar is a small caterpillar with fluffy hair. They are called puss caterpillars because their thick fluffy setae resemble a cuddly house cat which is a great identification feature. puss caterpillars feed on various deciduous trees and shrubs, especially maple, oak, and sycamore.
While this insect may look soft, but it is the most poisonous in the United States their outer comb over hides tiny, extremely toxic spines that stick in your skin. their sting feels like a bee sting only worse and in some cases, it can cause serious allergic reactions. puss caterpillars vary in size from 32 to 34 millimeters long. Usually, this caterpillar is not abundant enough to be noticed.
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
The fascinating aspect of spicebush caterpillars is that they have ferocious eyespots that resemble tiny green snakes or tree frogs that can protect them from predators. Young caterpillars however mimic bird droppings. These caterpillars feed on spicebush, sweet bay, and sassafras. although they have two ferocious eyespots, spicebush caterpillars are harmless. The caterpillars eat only at night, so it is difficult to spot them. During daytime they remain concealed In Their Leaf Shelter.
Hickory Horned Devil (Citheronia Regalis)
If you are looking for one of the scariest looking caterpillars then here is a hickory horned devil caterpillar for you. Although they have a ferocious appearance, they are harmless. They have green bodies and lots of prickles, orangey horn-like structures on their heads. Hickory horned devil caterpillars are sometimes found on walnut trees, hickories, sweetgum, persimmon, and even sumac. Apart from being the scariest, they are the largest caterpillar in the world. Matured hickory horned caterpillars are quite large and can grow up to 5.5 inches long. Overall, the caterpillar resembles a ferocious dragon but is not harmless. The spines are not very sharp and are not poisonous. Hickory horn emerges into one of the biggest moths you can find.
Zebra Longwing Butterfly Caterpillar
The caterpillar of the zebra longwing butterfly is white with long black spines and a pale-yellow head. The zebra longtail caterpillar feeds on the leaves of passion flowers. The passionflower contains a toxin called cyanogenic glycoside that gives the zebra longwing caterpillar an unpleasant taste and makes it poisonous to predators. this long jaggy-looking butterfly emerges into a zebra longwing butterfly with long narrow wings having black and light-yellow zebra-like stripes. These butterflies are fond of nectar from the flower lantana so if you want to attract this fascinating butterfly these plants are required in your landscape.
The European gypsy moth caterpillar (Lymantria Dispar)
The European gypsy caterpillar is a hairy type of caterpillar with red and blue dots. The caterpillar has five pairs of blue dots followed by six pairs of red dots along its back. You can easily identity them with these red and blue dots. This fuzzy caterpillar is native to Asia, Europe, and most of the states of us. In caterpillar form they can grow to approximately 38 to 50 mm in length. European gypsy moth caterpillars feed on the leaves of a large variety of trees such as apple, spruce, maple, ash, pine, oak and many more. These caterpillars are not exactly poisonous, but their hairs are hazardous enough for those who are allergic to them and that is why you should avoid touching them. due to its voracious appetite, they are considered as pests.
The Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia Stimulea)
The saddleback caterpillar has a distinctive colour pattern, dark brown on the front and end section with Bridget green saddle blanket outlined in white and topped by a brown saddle in the middle and has a pair of fleshy horn at either end. This insect is native to the eastern United States and belongs to the family of slug caterpillars, limacodidae, a group of moths better known as caterpillars.
The saddleback caterpillar is a general feeder and is generally found on many hosts including apple, pear, cheery, rose, corn foliage, chestnut, oak, plum are other trees in late summer. The saddleback caterpillar’s hollow quills are connected to poison glands beneath its skin, and the pain and swelling from contact with them can rival or surpass that of a bee sting. The burning pain and discomfort can last for several hours. So, you should be careful while handling them.
The Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar (Pterourus Glaucus)
The tiger swallowtails are amazing animals. It is an insect that belongs to the group of swallowtail butterflies. They are found in north America (from Mexico to Canada). This caterpillar is brown and white when it is young and resembles bird droppings but the colour changes when it grows young. When this caterpillar matures it is green with orange and black false eyespots. These eyespots are a type of deceptive coloration that provides protection to the caterpillar from predators.
Tiger swallowtail caterpillar feeds on a variety of woody plants including wild cherry, tulip poplar, ash, birch, and others. This caterpillar is safe to handle as it is not poisonous unlike the poisonous pipevine caterpillars. The tiger swallowtail caterpillar transforms into one of the most common and beautiful eastern butterflies, the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly.
The Spurge Hawk Moth (Hyles Euphorbiae)
The spurge hawk-moth is a European species. Hawkmoth caterpillars are either brown or green in colour with innumerable white dots there are also eleven large spots of the same colour arrayed in a row on each side of the back, and beneath these as many spots of the same size and of a bright coral-red colour; the head is of the same coral-red colour, and a line of the same color runs all along the back, from the head to the horn on the rear end which is red on the base and black on the tip. It feeds on sea spurge.
The Woolly Bear Caterpillar
This woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella) belongs to the family of tiger moths which includes many attractive and widely distributed species and hence it is also called the Isabella tiger moth or banded woolly bear. You can identify this caterpillar by its woolly appearance. This caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty brown or black. they have a reputation for being able to predict winter.
The longer the woolly bear’s black band the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be and if the rusty band is wide then it will be a mild winter. The woolly bear caterpillars are herbivores hence they eat only plants. They feed on wildflowers, clover, dandelions, and any other plants that grow on the land. These colorful caterpillars are harmless to people. However, few have irritating hairs and if touched can cause people to develop skin rashes.
The Sycamore Tussock Caterpillar
The sycamore tussock caterpillars are covered with white hair and have an orange head. They have four white tufts on the front end and a pair of white tufts on the rear. The fully grown caterpillar grows upto 40 mm and feeds on a variety of deciduous trees including maple and sycamore. These hairy caterpillars are usually seen in late summer and early autumn when they leave the tree to wander in search of somewhere to pupate. Contrary to its bright colour they are not venomous however their prickly hair can cause a very itchy rash if handled excessively. This caterpillar will eventually grow to be relatively unremarkable yellow moths with pale bands on their wings.
The Imperial Moth Caterpillar
The imperial moth caterpillars (Eacles Imperialis) are green or brown and are quite spiky. They have white spots with black rings around them lining the side of their body. They can grow upto 5 inches in length. The imperial moth caterpillar can feed on dozens of kinds of trees, but they mostly prefer sweetgum, sassafras, maple, pines, and oak. Other less common hosts are beech, hickory, elm, cedar as well as a slew of other plants. These caterpillars possess stinging hairs and barbs that can cause itchy rashes or painful stings.
The Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar
The pipevine swallowtails are a glossy brown variety of the swallowtail species. These brown caterpillars have long tubercles on the front of their heads which they actively use to feel out the world around them. In their early days, these caterpillars are gregarious which means they hang out in groups feeding together. But when they get a bit bigger, they tend to go their own way.
The pipevine swallowtail caterpillars are poisonous as they feed on the poisonous host plant Aristolochia which is also known as pipevine, birthwort and dutchman’s pipe. if you want to increase the chance of seeing these caterpillars plant some pipevines in your garden. This caterpillar transforms into the most beautiful swallowtail butterflies which are also known as blue swallowtails.
The Buck Moth Caterpillars
The buck moth caterpillars have reddish heads and small round white spots all over their body. They also have spines on their body; these spines are hollow and are connected to venom glands that occur within their body and if they touch your skin can cause a nasty rash and deliver a terrible sting including immediate pain and severe itching.
The buck moth caterpillar is usually found in early summer, mainly in June. It is often confused with spiny elm caterpillars and gypsy moth caterpillars which are also active at that time. Cherry, rose, hazelnut is their suitable host plants but usually, these caterpillars are found on oak.
So, this is it, these are some of the most common types of caterpillars that you can find around you. Hopefully, this identification guide will provide you with enough knowledge to identify these caterpillars if you see them in your garden, woodland, or anywhere else. If you guys know some more interesting facts about these caterpillars, please do comment below.