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Striped Caterpillars: An Identification Guide (With Photos)

GreenMind publishes authoritative and detailed guides to the things you're curious about.

The striped caterpillar of the American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis

The striped caterpillar of the American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis

Caterpillar With Stripes: Species Guide

This guide will help you identify the striped caterpillar that you found. Identification of caterpillars, like all insect species, relies on certain characteristics, and it can be difficult to tell them apart. This quick and easy guide to striped caterpillars is here to help.

All insects have a scientific name, and many have a common or popular name. For example, the insect with the scientific name Papilio glaucus is commonly known as "the tiger swallowtail butterfly." This guide will give you both the scientific and the popular name, if there is one.

This caterpillar identification guide will also answer the following key questions:

  • Does it sting? Some caterpillars have stinging hairs and spines and need to be handled very carefully. Striped caterpillars are no exception.
  • 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. In fact, a few species (some with stripes) need to be reported to authorities to protect the local environment.
  • Is it rare? Possibly! The striped caterpillar you found may be an unusual species!
  • What does it turn into? Caterpillars are the immature form of butterflies and moths. Your striped caterpillar will turn into some kind of winged adult, some of which are very beautiful.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? It's possible to keep a caterpillar and raise it to a moth or butterfly. You will need to know what it eats, provide an adequate habitat, and be patient while it grows and changes into its mature form.

Identification Chart for Spiny Caterpillar Guide

NameIdentificationHabits

Monarch

Yellow and black stripes; black tentacles

Queen

Similar to monarch

Found only on milkweed

Black swallowtail

Black spots in green-yellow bands

Southern version of the monarch

Cinnabar moth

Bright yellow and black horizontal strips

Western; feeds in groups

Striped Garden Caterpillar

Variable; look for stripe along side

Very common on garden plants

Orange-striped oakworm

Dark brown with orange stripes; spines

Found on ground in late summer

Giant sphinx

Huge caterpillar with bright black and yellow horizontal stripes

Feeds on frangipani; southern; can bite!

Zebra caterpillar

Thin black and yellow vertical side stripes along sides

Feeds on marsh plants; can swim

Brown-hooded owlet

Very similar to zebra cateprillar

Eats asters; many similar species

White-lined sphinx

Variable; some have bright green/black stripe

Common on many garden plants

Azalea caterpillar

Thin bright longitudinal stripes

Feeds in groups on azaleas; can be a pest

Angle shades moth

Green with pale longitudinal line

Camouflaged larve and moth; seldom seen

Cross-striped cabbagworm

Thin horizontal stripes on top of body

Can be a pest on cabbage

American painted lady

Black with horizontal striped bands

Often found on asters; common

Gulf fritillary

Orange and gray striped; spines

Southern; feeds on passion vine

Rosy maple moth

Green with pale green longitudinal stripes

Not often found; moth is pink and yellow

16 Caterpillars With Stripes Common in North America

  1. The Monarch Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus)
  2. The Queen Caterpillar (Danaus gilippus)
  3. Black Swallowtail Caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes)
  4. Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae)
  5. Striped Garden Caterpillar (Trichordestra legitima)
  6. Orange-Striped Oakworm (Anisota senatoria)
  7. Giant Sphinx (Pseudosphinx tetrio)
  8. Zebra Caterpillar (Melanchra picta)
  9. Brown-Hooded Owlet (Cucullia convexipennis)
  10. White-Lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata)
  11. Azalea Caterpillar (Datana major)
  12. Angle Shades Moth (Phlogophora meticulosa)
  13. Cross-Striped Cabbage Worm (Evergestis rimosalis)
  14. American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
  15. Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
  16. Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda)

Continue scrolling for more information about each of these striped insects, along with photos of the caterpillars and the butterflies or moths they become.

Note: At the end of this article, you will also find information about how to safely control any pest caterpillars that may be plaguing your garden.

1. The Monarch Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus)

The iconic butterfly has an equally iconic caterpillar. The adults are highly photogenic, and their well-documented migrations—in which they wind up wintering in the millions in a small patch of forest in Mexico—have captured the attention and awareness of people who otherwise know little about butterflies.

This cool, striped caterpillar feeds only on milkweed, with an apparent preference for swamp milkweed. The adults lay eggs on the plant and the caterpillars eat the leaves. It's thought that the toxic sap of the milkweed plant (the "milk") imparts toxicity to the caterpillars, protecting them from predators. But at in my experience, at least, they're not protected from wasps and other insect predators; I have seen them wipe out an entire population from my backyard milkweed patch.