Green Caterpillar Identification and Guide

Updated on July 7, 2018
greenmind profile image

I am a writer, teacher, and parent. I have degrees in American history and human development, but insects are my true passion!

Green Caterpillar Identification

This guide will help you identify the green caterpillar you found. For every species, this guide will tell you the common and scientific name (all insects have a scientific name, and many have a common or popular name. For example, the insect with the scientific name Danaus plexippus is commonly known as "the monarch butterfly"). It will also answer the following key questions:

  • Does it sting? Some caterpillars have stinging hairs and spines, and need to be handled very carefully.
  • What Does It Eat? Every caterpillar has specific trees and plants that it eats.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Most caterpillars do little to no damage, but a few pest species can really destroy a garden, or even a forest. A few species need to be reported to authorities to protect the local environment.
  • Is it rare? The green caterpillar you found may be an unusual species!
  • What does it turn into? Caterpillars are the immature form of butterflies and moths. Your green caterpillar will turn into some kind of winged adult, and some are very beautiful.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? It's possible to keep a caterpillar and raise it to the moth or butterfly. You will need to know what it eats, and be patient while it grows and changes into the adult.

Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms

Hornworms: Manduca species

The tomato hornworm, and its very close relative the tobacco hornworm, are among the most common and destructive insects in the Northern Hemisphere. The tomato hornworm is a huge green caterpillar that eats tomato leaves and young fruit, and if you find one on your vines then you can be pretty sure that there are others. Despite their size, tomato hornworms are often hard to find among the leaves, since their color and markings give them perfectly evolved camouflage. Control of these insects basically means finding them and picking them off. It's best to smash them into your compost pile, since the scavengers there will welcome them.

  • Does it sting? No. The horn on the tail is only for show.
  • What does it eat? Almost exclusively tomatoes, but sometimes other related plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes. A few can kill an entire tomato vine.
  • Is it rare? No. This species is found almost everywhere.
  • What does it turn into? It becomes a big, strong moth, one of a large group known as "hawkmoths."
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, these are easy to raise. Keep a folded paper towel in the bottom of the container so it can pupate.

Tomato Hornworm Moth

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Black Swallowtail: Papilio polyxenes

The black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, is a big, beautiful butterfly that is common in the Eastern United States; closely related species occur across the entire continent. The caterpillar feeds on parsley, carrots, and dill. The female butterfly lays eggs on the plant in the late spring and early summer, and the caterpillar takes a few weeks to grow and pupate. The small young caterpillars are black with a white "saddle" and look exactly like a bird dropping; the older ones are a beautiful green and black pattern. If you find one, give the front end a very gentle squeeze and orange "horns" will pop out. These are called an "osmeterium." They smell bad and also resemble a snake's tongue!

  • Does it sting? No. These caterpillars are totally harmless.
  • What does it eat? Parsley, carrots, dill.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No. It will eat some of the greens and leaves, but not very much.
  • Is it rare? No, but they're hard to see on the plant.
  • What does it turn into? A really gorgeous butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes -- it's easy to raise this species. Make sure it has a stick in the container, because it makes a chrysalis on an upright stem.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Copper Underwing Caterpillar

Copper Underwing: Amphipyra pyramidoides

You will likely never see the copper underwing adult moth, but you may find the caterpillar eating the leaves of many trees and shrubs, including apple, basswood, hawthorn, maple, oak, walnut, raspberry, and grape. This is a common species, but it's most often found as a caterpillar. The moth hides during the day in cracks and and bark, so most people don't see it. Even if you do see the adult, the plain brown pattern on the upper wings will probably not catch your attention. The hindwings are a pretty copper color, hence the common name. The big green caterpillar is sometimes mistaken for a hornworm, but it only has a hump, not a horn -- in fact, this species gets its scientific name, Amphipyra pyramidoides, from its pyramid-like hump.

  • Does it sting? No. This caterpillar is harmless.
  • What does it eat? Many trees and shrubs, including apple, basswood, hawthorn, maple, oak, walnut, raspberry, and grape.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No, unless there is a population explosion, which is very rare for this species.
  • Is it rare? No, although the adult moth is rarely seen.
  • What does it turn into? A cool brown moth with pretty copper-colored hindwings.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes. Keep it safe and dry with a good supply of food and it will pupate.

Copper Underwing Moth

Emperor Moth Caterpillar

Emperor Moth: Saturnia pavonia

This European species belongs to a large group of moths commonly called "giant silk moths." The caterpillars are generally very large and often green in color, although they almost always have tubercles, spines, or club-like structures. The group ranges around the world, but the emperor moth and its related species are generally found only in Eurasia. These moths are not common, and since the adults fly at night and hide during the day, they are seldom seen. However the caterpillars are sometimes encountered after they have left the food plant and are searching for a good place to spin a cocoon.

  • Does it sting? No, although the small spines are sharp and stiff.
  • What does it eat? The main foodplant is heather, but it has been recorded on many other plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually, unless there is an outbreak.
  • Is it rare? Generally yes, this species is quite uncommon
  • What does it turn into? A gorgeous moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes. If you find a caterpillar wandering on the ground, you can give it a home and it will likely spin a cocoon.

Emperor Moth

White-Lined Sphinx Caterpillar

White-Lined Sphinx: Hyles lineata

This species is related to the tomato hornworm. They are part of a large family of moths known as the Sphingidae, or hawkmoths. The white-lined sphinx moth is a big moth that flies like a hummingbird, hovering in front of flowers to drink nectar through its long, flexible "tongue." The adult is sometimes called the "striped morning hawkmoth," because they fly at dusk and dawn. If you're outside and it's getting dark and a big moth swoops by the hover in front of some flowers, it's almost certainly a hawkmoth of some kind. The caterpillars come in several forms -- some are green, as pictured, and some are brown are brightly patterned.

  • Does it sting? No. This caterpillar is harmless. The tail "horn" is only for show.
  • What does it eat? Many trees and shrubs, including willow, apple, elm, primrose, grape, tomato, and fuschia.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, this species can occur in big numbers and can damage plants.
  • Is it rare? No, although the adult moth is rarely seen.
  • What does it turn into? A big, powerful moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes. Keep it safe and dry with a good supply of food and it will pupate.

White-Lined Sphinx Moth

Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

Tiger Swallowtail: Pterourus glaucus

The tiger swallowtail, Pterourus glaucus, is a big, beautiful butterfly that is common in the Eastern United States. It is related to the black swallowtail listed earlier in this guide, and has many of the same features and habits. The caterpillar feeds on wild cherry, ash, and a number of other trees. Like other swallowtail butterflies, the female butterfly lays eggs on the plant in the late spring and early summer, and the caterpillar takes a few weeks to grow and pupate. Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars often resemble bird droppings when they are immature, and this species is no exception. Full-grown tiger swallowtail caterpillars have small false eyes near the front of the body -- these are purely for protection and cannot actually see (a related species, the spicebush swallowtail, has truly beautiful and large fake eyes). Like all swallowtail caterpillars, this species possesses an osmeterium -- a foul-smelling, forked organ near the head -- that it can pop out to deter predators.

  • Does it sting? No. These caterpillars are totally harmless.
  • What does it eat? Wild cherry, apple, ash, and other trees.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No. It will eat some of the greens and leaves, but not very much.
  • Is it rare? No, but they're hard to see on the plant.
  • What does it turn into? A really gorgeous butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes -- it's easy to raise this species. Make sure it has a stick in the container, because it makes a chrysalis on an upright stem.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Luna Moth Caterpillar

Luna Moth: Actias Luna

This beautiful species, scientific name Actias luna, belongs to a large group of moths commonly called "giant silk moths." Luna moths are related to the emperor moth listed above, but are found in North America. The caterpillar is very large and pale green in color, with red dots that feature small spines.The luna moth caterpillar is quite plain compared to other giant silk moth caterpillars, but the adult moth is incomparably gorgeous -- it is considered by many to be the most beautiful insect in North America. The delicate green color and long swooping tails of the luna, combined with its impressive size, make it an unforgettable sight. Adults do not eat; caterpillars are found on a variety of plants.

  • Does it sting? No, although the small spines are sharp and stiff.
  • What does it eat? Oak, walnut, willow, and many other trees.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? No, this species is fairly common throughout its range. You will sometimes find the adults coming to lights late at night.
  • What does it turn into? A gorgeous moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes. If you find a caterpillar wandering on the ground, you can give it a home and it may spin a cocoon.

Luna Moth

Cabbage White Caterpillar

Cabbage White: Pieris rapae

This very common species is often one of the first butterflies you see on the wing in springtime. It's actually an invasive species, having spread to North America from Eurasia in the mid-19th century, but by now it just seems like a regular part of our fauna. The caterpillars eat almost anything, and can be a serious pest of commercial on home agriculture. They are a soft green color that exactly matches the leaves they're eating, and hey like to rest along the main vein of the leaf, where they're basically invisible. If you do find them, pick them off and drop them in soapy water -- this species can be a real pest.

  • Does it sting? No, the caterpillars are harmless.
  • What does it eat? Cabbages, and just about everything else.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A plain white butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, but there's really no reason to.

Cabbage White Butterfly

Cabbage Looper

Cabbage Looper: Trichoplusia Ni

This is another very common garden pest on cabbage and other plants. In a way, it's the moth counterpart of the cabbage butterfly. The cabbage looper, scientific name Trichoplusia ni, occurs in Eurasia and North America -- the adult moth is migratory, moving across large distances when the population expands. The caterpillar is green and chubby, and can be found in the crowns of broccoli and in the inner leaves of cabbage. If you find them, pick them off -- pesticides don't work well with species like this.

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? A wide variety of garden plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes.
  • Is it rare? No -- this species is very common.
  • What does it turn into? A plain brown moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, but the moths can be found at lights easily enough.

Cabbage Looper Moth

Imperial Moth Caterpillar

Imperial Moth: Eacles Imperialis

This very large caterpillar is either green or brown, depending on the color form. It's most often seen crawling on the ground in late summer, when it leaves the food plant and goes in search of a good spot to burrow down underground and form a pupa. This species is related to the giant silk moths, but is in a separate subfamily (Ceratocampinae) and do not spin a cocoon. The adult moths can be absolutely huge, and come in a variety of shades of yellow, brown, and burgundy. They look very much like a fallen leaf and despite their size can be very hard to see due to this camouflage.

  • Does it sting? No. Despite its size and spines, this caterpillar is harmless.
  • What does it eat? A wide variety of plants, including pines, oaks, maples, sweet gum, and sassafras.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not typically, unless there is a large number present.
  • Is it rare? No, this species is relatively common.
  • What does it turn into? A huge, beautiful insect known as the imperial moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes. If you find one crawling on the ground, you can put in tupperware with a folded paper towel on the bottom and it will pupate.

Imperial Moth

The Imperial Moth's Amazing Camouflage

Puss Moth Caterpillar

Puss Moth: Cerura Vinula

This is remarkable caterpillar that can be found throughout Europe, with many similar species throughout the world. The puss moth caterpillar (scientific name Cerura vinula), is a large green insect with some remarkable abilities. If you find one, it will probably consider you to be a threat to its existence. Accordingly, it will attempt to scare you away -- and this cateprillar has a pretty amazing way of doing that. On the tail end are two spines, and the caterpillar can stick long red "whips" or tentacles out of these spines. If you are a parasitic wasp or some other threat, this might drive you away. If that fails, however, the caterpillar can also spit formic acid. This is the same burning substance that ants use when they bite (which is actually a sting), and it is an unusual ability in the caterpillar world. So if you find one, definitely handle with care!

  • Does it sting? No, but it can spit acid, so best not to handle it.
  • What does it eat? Willows and poplars.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No, not usually.
  • Is it rare? No, although it may be uncommon in parts of its range
  • What does it turn into? A cool black and white moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Video Showing Cerura Vinula's Defensive Moves

Puss Moth

Angle Shades Caterpillar

Angle Shades: Phlogophora Meticulosa

This common Eurasian moth, scientific name Phlogophora meticulosa, is a widepsread insect very similar relatives in North America. The adult is pretty and interesting-looking -- it rests with its wings folded in a way that makes it really resemble a dead leaf. These moths come to lights and can be common even in urban, developed areas. The green caterpillar (although some forms are brown) is hard to find on the plant, but since the species is so common and widespread, you stand a good chance of coming across one as it feeds on apple, birch, spinach, nettle or one of literally dozens of common pants and trees.

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? Almost anything, from beets to nettles.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Enough of them can eat a good amount of your salad garden.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A pretty brown moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Angle Shades Moth

Rustic Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Rustic Sphinx: Manduca rustica

Closely related to the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), the rustic sphinx (Manduca rustica) is less common and generally found in the southern United States. The large, strong-flying moth is beautiful, with streamlined wings mottled black, cream, and rusty brown. The caterpillar is deep green with maroon and white diagonal stripes, with a curved horn on the rear end (known as a "caudal horn"). The horn is harmless, but it can give the caterpillar, which is very large and heavy, a "don't touch me" look. These caterpillars may be found when they leave the foodplant to go looking for a pace to burrow underground and form a pupa.

  • Does it sting? No, this large caterpillar is harmless
  • What does it eat? A number of ornamental plants, including species of Bignonia, Fraxinus, and Heliotropium.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Sometimes, of there are enough of the caterpillars on the plant.
  • Is it rare? No, although it is uncommon in northern areas.
  • What does it turn into? A big moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it the right food and a safe, dry place to live.

Rustic Sphinx Moth

Hickory Horned Devil

Hickory Horned Devil: Citheronia regalis

This is the largest caterpillar in North America; the adult, the royal walnut moth, is the largest moth (by mass). You will likely never see the moth, even though it's huge, because like most moths it only comes out at night and hides during the day. The caterpillar earns its common name, hickory horned devil, by having the most terrifying look for a caterpillar in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world -- the size, weight, and huge demonic horns give it an almost supernatural presence. When disturbed, it often rears up and clicks it jaws together menacingly. Despite all of this, it cannot bite or sting, and if you handle one it will simply crawl on you. This legendary caterpillar is a real event if you happen to find a full-grown one crawling on the ground looking for a place to dig down and pupate.

  • Does it sting? No, despite its scary appearance. It looks and acts like it's dangerous, but it's harmless.
  • What does it eat? Sweetgum, walnut, hickory, and persimmon
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? Common in the South, rare in the North.
  • What does it turn into? Citheronia regalis, the regal or royal moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Regal or Royal Moth

Did You Find a Green Caterpillar?

Did you find a green caterpillar that you're trying to identify?

See results

Resources

The following sources were used for this guide:

www.insectidentification.org/

www.knowyourinsects.org/step1.html

labs.russell.wisc.edu/insectid/

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • greenmind profile imageAUTHOR

        GreenMind 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        Hi -- @ Peggy Woods -- It's unusual in my experience for that species to eat so much! Sorry about your parsley. P. polyxenes is a beautiful species and I imagine very hard to destroy/remove from your garden...

      • MarleneB profile image

        Marlene Bertrand 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        This is everything anyone would need to know about the green caterpillar. It is quite fascinating. I learned so much.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        4 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Some black swallowtail caterpillars just decimated some parsley plants we had in our backyard. This is not the first year that it has happened. They certainly do turn into beautiful butterflies. The swallowtail caterpillars look quite similar to the Monarche caterpillars.

      • greenmind profile imageAUTHOR

        GreenMind 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        To control caterpillars on your plant, you can spray with soapy water. That will drive some of them away and not hurt the plant.

      • profile image

        Alex tesfaye 

        4 weeks ago

        I were very intersted about caterpillars that were eating my sage and mint. The one which eat my sage is the cabbage caterpillars how can i control it by organic method beside picking it from the plant.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)