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Caterpillar Identification Guide: 40 Species With Photos and Descriptions

I'm a dedicated citizen scientist, here to help. If you don't see your insect here, post it on my FB page @CaterpillarIdentification.

The beautiful caterpillar of the black swallowtail is often found on parsley or dill in your garden.

The beautiful caterpillar of the black swallowtail is often found on parsley or dill in your garden.

Identify Your Caterpillar With This Easy, Accurate Guide

If you have found a caterpillar and you're wondering if it will damage your garden, or what it will turn into, then this easy, photo-rich caterpillar identification guide will help.

This guide will answer many of your questions: Does this caterpillar sting? Is it rare? Is it a serious garden or forest pest? Whether you're a young scientist looking for information for a project, a gardener with big green caterpillars all over your tomatoes, or you simply want to know what that thing crawling across your patio might be, there's something here for you. (If you want to know more about caterpillars and the amazing, strange world they live in, check out my website, Fred's Bughouse.)

The cecropia moth caterpillar, one of the largest and most impressive species in North America, is completely harmless and does not sting.

The cecropia moth caterpillar, one of the largest and most impressive species in North America, is completely harmless and does not sting.

How to Use This Guide

For every caterpillar listed, this guide will tell you the following essential information:

  • Does it sting?
  • What does it eat?
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees?
  • Is it rare?
  • What does it turn into?
  • Can you raise it to an adult?

If you still have questions about identifying the caterpillar you found, there are good internet sources that are species-specific and can give you more detail.

First, a Quick Science Lesson: What Are Caterpillars?

Caterpillars are the larval stage of the class of insects called Lepidoptera, commonly known as butterflies and moths. They spend their days eating and storing energy for the adult butterfly or moth that they will become. Caterpillars are well adapted to their natural surroundings. Most of them are camouflaged, so even though they're all around us, we usually never see them. They are so perfectly disguised, or have such secretive habits, that we walk right by them without ever knowing they're there. But they are!

Butterflies and moths go through "complete metamorphosis" – that is, they have four distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa, adult. The caterpillar is the larval stage, and all it does is eat and store energy for the adult stage. They are basically eating machines whose only goal is to store fat for the adult stage.

Caterpillars are cool! They are often camouflaged, but many have bright colors and patterns that may serve to warn or scare away predators like birds. Most caterpillars are totally harmless, but a few species are protected by stinging spines.

Now that you know what a caterpillar is, let's find out what kind of caterpillar you have!

The Monarch caterpillar feeds exclusively on milkweeds

The Monarch caterpillar feeds exclusively on milkweeds

Danaus plexippus: The Monarch

This cool caterpillar is always found on some species of milkweed (Asclepias species). They aren't too hard to spot, with their bright stripes of black, white, and yellow. The milkweed that monarchs feed on is protected by having poisonous sap, which in turn makes the monarch caterpillar poisonous to any potential predators. Not a bad form of protection! They are brightly colored and turn into one of the most beautiful and popular of all butterflies: the monarch. Check it out, below!

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? Milkweeds
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No -- milkweed is a common roadside plant.
  • Is it rare? No, although pesticide run-off is threatening its foodplant!
  • What does it turn into? The beautiful monarch butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, it does well in captivity.

Monarch Butterfly

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Do You Want to Help Keep Monarch Butterflies from Becoming Endangered?

You can easily make a big difference simply by planting a few milkweed plants in your yard. Monarchs will visit the flowers and lay eggs on the leaves. Milkweed is the only kind of plant Monarch caterpillars eat, and without them they'll die. Pesticides used by modern agriculture can poison and kill milkweed plants, so you can help Monarchs by planting milkweeds yourself. The seeds are FREE. This article shows you how to get started. THANK YOU!

The black swallowtail caterpillar eats carrots, parsley, and fennel

The black swallowtail caterpillar eats carrots, parsley, and fennel

Papilio polyxenes: The Black Swallowtail

This caterpillar looks a lot like the monarch caterpillar (above) -- and that may not be an accident. The monarch is most likely "protected" by the bitter sap of the milkweed plant that it eats because some of the toxic compounds in the sap become incorporated into the insect's tissues.

The black swallowtail caterpillar eats the leaves of carrots and other Umbelliferae species, which gives them little protection. But sometimes just looking like you're poisonous can be protection enough -- that's the basis of one major form of mimicry. It's thought that the black swallowtail caterpillar mimics the monarch caterpillar so birds and other predators might leave it alone, putting a mistaken identity to good use!

These caterpillars can be kept in a safe, unbreakable habitat designed for raising caterpillars. Make sure you give them plenty of the host plant—for this species, carrot or dill—that you found them on.

This attractive caterpillar turns into a beautiful, big butterfly known as the black swallowtail.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No
  • What does it eat? Parsley, carrots, and dill
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Sometimes they can eat a lot of carrot greens.
  • Is it rare? No, but it isn't always common in all areas.
  • What does it turn into? The gorgeous black swallowtail butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it an upright stick to pupate on.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

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The painted lady caterpillar is often included in butterfly-raising kits.

The painted lady caterpillar is often included in butterfly-raising kits.

Vanessa cardui: The Painted Lady

The painted lady butterfly is likely the most wide-spread butterfly species in the world -- it occurs nearly everywhere, and has many subspecies and forms. The caterpillar is spiny but harmless, and in fact is the species most often included in butterfly rearing kits. In these kits, you receive a coupon to send in for eggs or newly hatched caterpillars, which feed on a kind of paste included in the kit. In nature, of course, the caterpillars feed on leaves, usually asters but also many other plants.

Painted lady butterflies are known to migrate in large numbers, spreading far beyond their usual range.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No
  • What does it eat? Asters
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually
  • Is it rare? No, but it isn't always common in all areas.
  • What does it turn into? The pretty Painted Lady butterfly
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it an upright stick to pupate on.
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The American Painted Lady caterpillar

The American Painted Lady caterpillar

Vanessa virginiensis: The American Painted Lady

Also known simply as the American Lady, this bright orange butterfly is very similar to the more common painted lady, Vanessa cardui, which is the species most often included in butterfly rearing kits. The American lady is brighter orange and a bit smaller, and flies earlier in the year. There are other "lady" butterflies across the United States, and even around the world.

This caterpillar feeds on asters, including everlasting. It has spines, but is completely harmless to humans. These caterpillars are generally easy to raise. They make a chrysalis; like virtually all butterfly species, they do not spin a cocoon.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No
  • What does it eat? Asters
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually
  • Is it rare? No, but it isn't always common in all areas.
  • What does it turn into? The pretty American Lady butterfly
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it an upright stick to pupate on.
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Red Admiral caterpillars eat stinging nettle

Red Admiral caterpillars eat stinging nettle

Vanessa atalanta: The Red Admiral

This very common species is one of the most often-seen butterflies in urban areas. Ir has a quick and nervous flight, but it lands frequently; males will often patrol areas around porches and yards in the late afternoon, returning to the same perch after each tour of its territory. This butterfly is also well-known for its habit of landing on people, which it evidently regards as a suitable perch.

The caterpillar of this charming butterfly feed in groups on nettles. You will sometimes find their nest in the summer, with many individuals, and a whole lot of poop as well. They likely gain some protection by making this stinging plant their home.

Red admiral caterpillars are dark, with jagged yellow markings on the side. Their black spines cover most of the body, making it even more difficult for a predator to get anything more than a mouthful of prickles should they decide to attack.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the spines are sharp.
  • What does it eat? Nettles
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? No -- this species is among the most common of North American butterflies.
  • What does it turn into? A pretty red and black butterfly
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it plenty of fresh leaves.
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The smeared dagger moth caterpillar

The smeared dagger moth caterpillar

Acronicta oblinita: The Smeared Dagger Moth

The adult moth of this species, like all dagger moths, is gray with black spots and chevrons, including a vaguely dagger-shaped mark at the lower corner of the upper wing; this is where the group gets its common name.

The spiny caterpillar of the smeared dagger moth feeds on many plants, and is among the more common moth caterpillars in the eastern US. It has a very characteristic jagged yellow line down its side, which makes it look quite similar to another spiny caterpillar in this guide, the red admiral butterfly.

This species is common enough that it can sometimes be considered a pest in the fruit industry, due to the spiny caterpillar's ability to strip small trees of leaves if there are enough of them.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the spines are sharp.
  • What does it eat? Many plants and trees
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, occasionally
  • Is it rare? No
  • What does it turn into? A drab gray moth
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it plenty of fresh leaves.
This is a typical dagger moth, similar to the smeared dagger moth.

This is a typical dagger moth, similar to the smeared dagger moth.

The caterpillar of the variegated fritillary

The caterpillar of the variegated fritillary

Euptoieta claudia: The Variegated Fritillary

The variegated fritillary is not a true fritillary, despite superficially resembling members of that group. This butterfly is something like a paler version of the gulf fritillary, with a "smeared" look to the underside, and no metallic silver markings. While it is related to the true fritillaries, the variegated fritillary exhibits some distinc differences:

  • Variegated fritillaries have two or three broods per year vs. one per year in Speyeria
  • They are nomadic vs. sedentary
  • They use a wide range of host plants vs. just violets.
  • Variegated fritillaries also have taxonomic links to the heliconians.
  • Their flight is low and swift, rather than high and gliding

Another characteristic of this species is the fact that they are very hard to approach; accordingly, its genus name was taken from the Greek word euptoietos, meaning "easily scared".

The beautiful spiny caterpillar becomes an even more beautiful pupa, marked with cream, orange, and metallic silver spines. The caterpillar's food plants include moonseed, flax, passionflower, plantain, pansy, and violets.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the spines are sharp.
  • What does it eat? Many plants (see above)
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? No, although it is more common in the South
  • What does it turn into? A pretty orange and black butterfly
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it plenty of fresh leaves.
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The caterpillar of the gulf fritillary

The caterpillar of the gulf fritillary

Agraulis vanillae: The Gulf Fritillary

The gulf fritillary is a simply gorgeous butterfly, one of the most striking insects in North America. It has the orange and black upperside of most fritillary species, but underneath it is shaded with crimson, rich coffee-brown, and brightly metallic silver spots. Interestingly, it is not a true fritillary; it's a member of a tropical group of butterflies sometimes called longwings or Heliconiids. There are no other members of this group that resemble the gulf fritillary, and the group is well known for its mimicry of other species, so it's likely that the gulf fritillary is "copying" the colors of the true fritillaries in order to gain some protection from predators. Of course, it could also be the other way around, and idea supported by the fact that Heliconiid caterpillars feed on vines -- in this case, Passiflora vines -- that are known to have toxic sap.

Whatever the case, the spiny caterpillar of the gulf fritillary is sometimes found on passion flower vines, especially in Florida and Texas. It is a southern species, but is sometimes found as far north as the Great Lakes.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the spines are sharp.
  • What does it eat? Passion flower vines
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, it can occasionally remove the leaves from the host plant
  • Is it rare? Not in the South, but in the North it is seldom seen
  • What does it turn into? A gorgeous butterfly
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it plenty of fresh leaves.
Agraulis vanillae, mating pair

Agraulis vanillae, mating pair

Cutworms live in the soil and eat almost any plant.

Cutworms live in the soil and eat almost any plant.

Cutworms and Related Caterpillars: Genus Xestia and Others

Cutworms are the caterpillars of a group of moths in the family Noctuidae, which is a very large group encompassing many species. Cutworm species are often in the genus Xestia, but may be in many other genera. Either way, the caterpillars and the moths all look very much alike.

Cutworms eat many plants, and get their name from their habit of eating through the stem close to the ground, "cutting down" the entire plant. They generally feed at night and spend the day curled up just below the surface, which is where you will find them when you're digging in your garden.

Cutworm moths are brown or gray, fairly large, and not very noticeable. If you see brown moths milling around your porch light on a warm summer night, chances are good that they belong to this group.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, these caterpillars are harmless to people
  • What does it eat? Many plants, including garden plants
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually, although they can eat a lot of leaves and potentially damage your garden
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A medium-sized brown moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, these are easy to raise

A Typical Cutworm Moth

Xestia baja, a cutworm moth

Xestia baja, a cutworm moth

The silver-spotted tiger moth caterpillar has irritating spines.

The silver-spotted tiger moth caterpillar has irritating spines.

Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth: Lophocampa argentata

The silver-spotted tiger moth is one of a large group of insects, known as tiger moths, that occur throughout North America and Europe. A few of the adult moths in this group are strikingly beautiful, but all of them are interesting insects with bold patterns and cool natural histories.

The silver-spotted tiger moth is notable mainly because its fur is likely to trigger allergic reactions in those with sensitivities. Contact with the caterpillar's short, stiff hairs can induce an itchy rash, and in some people the reaction can be bad enough to require medical treatment. It's important to note, however, that this insect is NOT venomous. Some caterpillars do possess venomous spines, but the silver-spotted tiger moth is not one of them.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, but its fur can cause allergic reactions
  • What does it eat? Douglas fir and other western trees
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually
  • Is it rare? No, but it isn't always common in all areas.
  • What does it turn into? A pretty pale brown and silver moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it enough fresh leaves.

Adult Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth

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Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Halysidota harrisii: The Sycamore Tussock

This species is closely related to the silver-spotted tiger moth (above). In fact, the common name "tussock moth" should properly be reserved for a different group, moths in the family Lymantriidae, unrelated to the tiger moths. But common names are a reality, and so the confusion will persist.

H. harrisii is quite common in some parts of the United States. You'll most likely find it wandering around looking for a safe place to make a cocoon. The moth is a pretty brown-and-cream color and is part of the genus Halysidota, which includes many similar species found all over the US.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the fur may be irritating to sensitive skin.
  • What does it eat? Sycamores and related plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No, it seldom occurs in enough numbers to do damage.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A cool, pale-brown tiger moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes -- it will spin a cocoon in the container.

Sycamore Tussock Moth

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Green Form of the Imperial Moth Caterpillar

Green Form of the Imperial Moth Caterpillar

Imperial moth caterpillar, right before burrowing down to pupate

Imperial moth caterpillar, right before burrowing down to pupate

The Imperial Moth: Eacles imperialis

This huge caterpillar is often found in late summer, when it leaves the comfort of the tree it has been living in and wanders off to find a place to pupate. This species pupates underground and does not spin a cocoon, so it has to find the right place to spend the winter and turn into a moth. Often these caterpillars are found on the ground right before they pupate; at this time their usual green color is dark, almost purple, and they are beginning to contract into the pupal form.

This big caterpillar turns into a very big moth, one of the largest in North America. The imperial moth is perfectly camouflaged to blend into yellowed leaves of poplars and other trees, so despite its size it can be very easy to miss. You are much more likely to see this magnificent species as a caterpillar than the adult moth.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No. Although they appear to be intimidating, these big caterpillars are harmless.
  • What does it eat? Sycamores, poplars, oaks, and related plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No, it seldom occurs in enough numbers to do damage.
  • Is it rare? Not really, although it's not often seen.
  • What does it turn into? A huge, yellow and brown moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes -- if you find a fully grown one on the ground, you can keep it in a container with a folded paper towel in the bottom. It will crawl around a lot and then find a place in the folds of the paper towel.

Adult Imperial Moth, Showing Camouflage

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The huge, amazing cecropia moth caterpillar.

The huge, amazing cecropia moth caterpillar.

Hyalophora cecropia: The Cecropia Giant Silk Moth

This is a BIG caterpillar, growing up to five inches long. And it looks amazing as well -- check out the orange and blue "clubs" on it. The cecropia caterpillar feeds on oak, willow, and maple, among other trees and bushes. It can be found wandering around in late summer as it looks for a place to spin its tough, brown cocoon. This spectacular caterpillar turns into an even more spectacular moth. The cecropia moth, below, is a bat-sized beauty that belongs to the group of "giant silk moths." These are among the largest Lepidoptera in North America.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, despite all the tubercles and spines.
  • What does it eat? Many plants, including privet, ash, birch, oak, and walnut.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? No, but it appears to be becoming less common.
  • What does it turn into? A huge, beautiful moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes -- this species does well in captivity.

Cecropia Moth

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Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar

Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar

Antheraea polyphemus: The Polyphemus Giant Silk Moth

This is another big caterpillar -- about the size and thickness of your thumb. It's closely related to the cecropia moth (above). Polyphemus caterpillars eat maple, birch, willow, and several other trees but are seldom abundant enough to cause any real damage. As big as they are, they are really hard to see among the foliage when they're resting. As with many caterpillars that leave the food plant to spin a cocoon, Polyphemus are sometimes seen wandering around in late summer. This caterpillar spins a tough, brown, oval cocoon that you may find attached to bushes and plants around your house during the winter.

The polyphemus moth, below, has large eyespots that look like an owl and may scare predators away. Another example of mimicry!

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? Many plants, including birches, maples, oak and walnut.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? No -- this is one of the more common giant silk moths.
  • What does it turn into? A huge, beautiful moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Polyphemus Moth

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The beautiful Promethea Giant Silk Moth caterpillar

The beautiful Promethea Giant Silk Moth caterpillar

Callosamia promethea: The Promethea Giant Silk Moth

This is a very cool species of giant silk moth that most people will, unfortunately, never see. The males fly in the late afternoon and resemble big, dark butterflies; the females fly at night and look a little like smaller, browner, cecropia moths. The caterpillars are very cryptic and secretive on the food plant, which is usually wild cherry. All in all, this species is usually overlooked, with one exception: if you search on wild cherry trees in the winter, you might see promethea moths is in the cocoon stage. They have a very distinctive cocoon that hangs from the food plant, and will often stay there for years after the moth has hatched out and flown away. If you are lucky enough to find a live promethea cocoon on a wild cherry tree, you can take it home to watch it hatch out. The newly-hatched moths are truly spectacular.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? Mostly wild cherry
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? No -- this is one of the more common giant silk moths.
  • What does it turn into? A huge, beautiful moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Promethea Moth Cocoons on Wild Cherry

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Adult Male Promethea Moth

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Banded woolly bear caterpillar

Banded woolly bear caterpillar

Pyrrharctia isabella: The Banded Woolly Bear

These little guys are often seen hot-footing it across the road in rural areas of eastern North America. They belong to the family of tiger moths (Arctiidae), which includes many attractive and widespread species. Woolly bears are the larva of the Isabella tiger moth, Pyrrharctia isabella, and they feed on a number of common plants found in second-growth areas and roadsides. When you see them hustling across the road, they are looking for a good place to spend the winter; this species hibernates under rocks or logs, emerging in the spring to pupate. The moths emerge in early summer.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the fur can be irritating to sensitive skin.
  • What does it eat? Just about anything, from oak trees to dandelions.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A very pretty but seldom-seen moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Not easily, since it overwinters as an adult and needs a pretty specific environment.

Banded Woolly Bear Tiger Moth

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Yellow woolly bear caterpillar

Yellow woolly bear caterpillar

Spilosoma virginica: The Yellow Woolly Bear

This is one of the most commonly encountered of all North American caterpillars. They eat a wide variety of common plants, many of them considered weeds, and they make no real effort to hide -- you can often find them on the top of a leaf in the middle of the day, happily eating. They are typically pale yellow or orange, but some individuals are much darker. The fur is thick but not spiny, and they are very "firendly" -- they don't seem to mind being handled and will harmlessly crawl over your hands (some people with super-sensitive skin may have a mild reaction to the fur). The adult is a beautiful white moth that you may find in the summer around your porch lights.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the fur can be irritating to sensitive skin.
  • What does it eat? Mostly low plants and "weeds."
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A very pretty white moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Yellow Woolly Bear Moth

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More Great Insect Guides

CAUTION: this caterpillar can really sting!

CAUTION: this caterpillar can really sting!

Automeris io: The Io Moth

This species, Automeris io, belongs to the group of giant silk moths that also includes the cecropia and polyphemus moths. This is one of the few caterpillars in our area that has irritating spines for protection, which really interested me when I was a kid. I had read all about the animal's "stinging spines" in my trusty Golden Nature Guide. I found one when I was about twelve and brushed the spines against my arm on purpose to see what all the fuss was about. Did it sting? Yes!

This beautiful caterpillar turns into a beautiful moth. The false eye-spots on the hind wing are very realistic, and come complete with reflected-light markings, making them extra realistic.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? YES. This species is protected with venomous spines.
  • What does it eat? Many plants, including roses and other garden plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually an issue.
  • Is it rare? No, but it is generally not common.
  • What does it turn into? The striking io giant silk moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Not advised.

Io Moth

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CAUTION! This caterpillar stings.

CAUTION! This caterpillar stings.

Genus Hemileuca: Buck Moths

There are several closely related moths in the genus Hemileuca, and the larvae of all of them can sting. On occasion, they will undergo a population explosion; at these times, they will be found crawling around on the ground, and also gather in large mats of several dozen individuals on tree trunks. This provides the species with increased protection from predators, since an encounter with a large number of this stinging caterpillar is a truly intimidating event.

Buck moths are related to the io moth, which also has a number of less-well-known species and sub-species. In general, it's best to be cautious around caterpillars with bright colors and multiple sets of rosette spines.

The Basics:

Scientific name: Hemileuca species

Food Plant: Mostly oaks

Range: Several species, ranging across the US and into Canada and Mexico

Adult Moth: The adult moths are large, beautiful insects

Severity of Sting: Can be very painful, especially if you come into contact with a group of the caterpillars.

The hera buck moth, one of several gorgeous buck moth species

The hera buck moth, one of several gorgeous buck moth species

And Now For Something Completely Different: A Swimming Caterpillar

Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms

Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms

Manduca Species: Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms

These huge caterpillars can often be found chowing down on your tomato plants, often to the point where the entire plant is eaten. The tobacco and tomato hornworms are very similar and often eat both plants, as well as sweet potatoes and other crops. They produce similar moths: huge brown bombers that are such good fliers they have earned the nickname "hawk moths."

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No. The horn on the tail end appears to be only for show.
  • What does it eat? Tomatoes, tobacco, and many other plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes -- this species can be a serious pest.
  • Is it rare? No, very common, even in cities.
  • What does it turn into? A big strong moth known as a "hawk moth."
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, without much difficulty.

Tomato Hornworm Moth

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How You Can Control Pest Caterpillars Without Poison

I am often asked about killing caterpillars that are destroying garden plants. I myself prefer to pick them off by hand and smash them into my compost pile, but sometimes that's not practical. On occasion I will use a product called DIATOMACEOUS EARTH. Diatomaceous Earth kills pest insects and is safe for the environment -- in fact, it's one of the more common substances found in nature. The way it works is pretty mind-blowing.

How Diatomaceous Earth Works

Diatomaceous Earth is refined from dirt found in the bottom of old ocean, lake and stream beds. It's full of the fossilized exo-skeletons of microscopic animals called diatoms. The skeletons of these animals are made out of silica, the same basic component of sand (and the silicon that supplies Silicon Valley with material for all of our computer chips).

Here's where it gets interesting. Diatomaceous Earth is not toxic, and is not a poison -- it kills insects because when they crawl over it, the jagged silica shells left behind by the diatoms make little scratches and cuts on the insect's underside. This damage is typically fatal.

Human Safety

Diatomaceous Earth is considered safe for humans, and much of it is "food grade" and actually offered as a dietary supplement. I avoid breathing it, but that's not too difficult since you're typically outside when you apply it. All things considered, this product is the thing you want when you have an out-of-control caterpillar problem.


Abbott's Sphinx Caterpillar, Brown Form

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Abbott's Sphinx Caterpillar, Green Form

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Abbott's Sphinx: Sphecodina abbottii

Abbott's sphinx presents a fascinating example of polymorphism -- the occurrence of two or more very different forms within on species. The two caterpillars above look like different species, but they're the same one, and even could have come from the same brood of eggs laid by one female. There's even one more color form, a blue-gray morph with a rounded orange "horn."

The caterpillars eat grape leaves. The adults, which look a like a piece of bark at rest, hover in front of flowers when they feed, making a faint buzzing sound and looking very much like a bumblebee.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No. The horn on the tail end appears to be only for show.
  • What does it eat? Grapevines
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No, unless there are many caterpillars present
  • Is it rare? No, in fact this species appears to be becoming more common
  • What does it turn into? A very cool little moth that mimics a bee
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, without much difficulty.
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The milkweed tiger moth caterpillar

The milkweed tiger moth caterpillar

Euchaetes egle: The Milkweed Tussock Moth

This cool-looking little guy is the larval stage of the tiger moth Euchaetes egle. There are relatively few Lepidoptera species that feed on milkweed, which has poisonous sap that may make the caterpillars themselves poisonous to birds. Like the monarch, milkweed tiger moth caterpillars eat nothing but milkweed and spend all of their time on the plant, living and moving in small groups of up to ten. They're not at all hard to find on the host plant -- their bright coloring is thought to be a kind of warning to predators not to even bother eating them.

For such a showy caterpillar, the adult milkweed tiger moth is pretty plain -- unmarked, light gray wings with a spotted abdomen.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, but the fur may be irritating.
  • What does it eat? Milkweeds.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually, although it will eat a fair amount.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A very plain gray moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Not easily, since they occur in large groups and need lots of fresh milkweed.

Milkweed Tiger Moth

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The very destructive gypsy moth caterpillar

The very destructive gypsy moth caterpillar

Lymantria dispar: The Gyspy Moth

This is the dreaded gypsy moth caterpillar, Lymantria dispar, which can multiply out of control and strip entire oak trees down to the branch. In some cases, whole forests lose their leaves to hordes of these caterpillars. Walking into a forest under siege from gypsy moth caterpillars, you can hear the sound of millions of tiny jaws working away, eating every leaf in site. Attempts have been made to control this caterpillar by spraying infested forests with a kind of bacteria that kills the caterpillars. While this can be effective, the bacteria is known to kill many other species of caterpillars in addition to the gypsy moth. It's a high price to pay to rescue trees that will likely eventually survive anyway!

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the spines are sharp and stiff.
  • What does it eat? Everything, and a lot of it.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes -- this is one of the most serious insect pests on the planet.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? The gypsy moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, but please don't.

Learn More About the Gypsy Moth and How to Control Them

  • How to Identify Gypsy Moth Caterpillars (With Photos)
    This quick and easy guide includes helpful information and plenty of photos to aid you in identifying gypsy moth caterpillars. Learn about immature caterpillars, full-grown caterpillars, differences between male and female adult moths, and more.

Male Gypsy Moth

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The forest tent caterpillar

The forest tent caterpillar

Malacosoma disstria: The Forest Tent Caterpillar

This pretty blue and brown caterpillar is often found in large numbers in oak forests. They can be a pest, but not on the level of the dreaded gypsy moth, which can defoliate an entire forest in a matter of weeks. They get the name "tent caterpillar" because the group of insects they belong to tend to make silk webs or mats on the branches and trunks of the host trees. They eat a variety of trees, especially wild cherry -- the cyanide in the cherry leaves may be the reason that this caterpillar can spit "tobacco juice" that contains a small amount of cyanide.

The very similar Eastern Tent Caterpillar has a solid white line down the back, instead of spots. Its habits and food plants are similar.

The moth that this caterpillar turns into is a pretty fawn brown color with subtle stripes and a furry body.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although it can spit toxic "juice."
  • What does it eat? Forest trees such as wild cherry.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, it can.
  • Is it rare? No, very common.
  • What does it turn into? A pretty brown moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? No, since it needs a large tent to live in with dozens of other caterpillars.

Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth

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Hickory horned devil caterpillar

Hickory horned devil caterpillar

Citheronia regalis: The Regal Moth

When I was a boy, I always hoped to find one of these amazing creatures munching on the leaves of the hickory trees in our neighborhood. I never did, though -- they are not all that common, and live mostly in the South. My bad luck to live in the North! The hickory horned devil is likely the largest, and certainly the fiercest-looking, caterpillar in North America. Full-grown, they are nearly half a foot long, and will rear up and make a clicking sound if you bother them. They're totally harmless, though, like pretty much all caterpillars.

The hickory horned devil turns into the regal moth, a gigantic, beautiful animal that most people will never see in nature.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, even though it looks really fierce.
  • What does it eat? Walnut, oak, persimmon, and hickory.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? Common in the southern states.
  • What does it turn into? A huge, beautiful moth -- in terms of mass, it's the biggest in North America.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, although it pupates in soil (no cocoon).

Regal Moth (Hickory Horned Devil Moth)

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Pandorus sphinx moth

Pandorus sphinx moth

Eumorpha pandorus: The Pandorus Sphinx Moth

This bright orange beauty is one form of a somewhat common type of sphinx moth larva -- the other form is green, and while beautiful, is not quite as striking as this one. I've included this caterpillar mainly because I think it's so beautiful – as is the moth it turns into. This caterpillar in the illustration may be a tropical version of the North American pandorus species -- it's a little hard to tell. But if you find one, you can be sure you've found a truly special insect.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? Grape and virginia creeper, among other plants.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? This species is not rare but it is seldom seen.
  • What does it turn into? A truly gorgeous moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Pandorus Sphinx Moth

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The catalpa sphinx moth caterpillar

The catalpa sphinx moth caterpillar

Ceratomia catalpae: The Catalpa Sphinx Moth

This species feeds only on catalpa trees, which are very common in the South and becoming more so in the North. Catalpa trees have big, pale green leaves and form seed pods in the fall. They are common ornamental trees and can be found in both city and suburb.

The catalpa sphinx can really do a number on an infested tree. But there is also a type of parasitic wasp whose eggs turn into little wasp larvae that eat the caterpillar from the inside out. This kills the caterpillar, as you might guess! If it manages to avoid such an unpleasant fate, it turns into the moth pictured below.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? Catalpa leaves, and a lot of them.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, it has been known to strip all the leaves from a tree.
  • Is it rare? Common in the southern United States.
  • What does it turn into? A large brown moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Catalpa Sphinx Moth

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The mourning cloak butterfly caterpillar

The mourning cloak butterfly caterpillar

Nymphalis antiopa: The Mourning Cloak Butterfly

This caterpillar eats elm leaves and is known in some places as "the spiny elm caterpillar." It is the larval stage of one of the best-known butterflies in the world, the mourning cloak. This beautiful insect is native to the US and Europe. In the UK, this species is incredibly rare, and entomologists can spend a lifetime waiting for one to show up (it's known as "the Camberwell Beauty" in England). Up close, the upper side of the mourning cloak is gorgeous. The underside is considerably more drab; the dark colors give the insect its common name because early entomologists thought it looked like the drab cloaks worn by mourners at funerals.

Mourning cloaks often winter in a shelter and begin flying on the first warm days of spring. Keep an eye out for these big, beautiful butterflies on warm spring days, even when there are still patches of snow on the ground.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, although the spines are sharp.
  • What does it eat? Elm leaves.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Not usually.
  • Is it rare? Not in North America, but in England it is very rare.
  • What does it turn into? A gorgeous burgundy and yellow butterfly
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it plenty of fresh leaves.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

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American dagger moth caterpillar

American dagger moth caterpillar

Acronicta americana: The American Dagger Moth

This cool caterpillar has irritating "fur" that it spins into its cocoon. The black hair pencils may act as fake antennae, making the insect appear larger or more threatening than it really is. This caterpillar feeds on oaks and other trees, and can be very common in the late summer and early fall as it crawls around looking for a place to spin its oval cocoon.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, but the fur can be irritating.
  • What does it eat? A lot of trees, including ash, birch, elm, maple, and oak.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? No, quite common.
  • What does it turn into? A pretty gray moth.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, especially if you find one wandering around in late summer looking for a place to spin a cocoon.

American Dagger Moth

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The tiger swallowtail caterpillar

The tiger swallowtail caterpillar

Pterorous glaucus: The Tiger Swallowtail

This rather plain caterpillar turns into one of our most spectacular butterflies, the tiger swallowtail (Pterourus glaucus). It is sometimes seen crawling down the trunks of ash and cherry trees in early summer, looking for a place to pupate. This caterpillar overwinters as a very young larvae, rolled up in a little leaf shelter, to emerge in the spring and resume eating and growing. The adult butterflies are a common sight in parks and gardens, yellow and black beauties that soar high among the treetops, looking for mates and a place to lay their eggs.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? Ashes, wild cherry, apple, and other trees.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? No, very common; subspecies occur throughout North America.
  • What does it turn into? A big beautiful tiger-striped butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

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Giant swallowtail caterpillar

Giant swallowtail caterpillar

Papilio cresphontes: The Giant Swallowtail

The giant swallowtail can be very common in some years, especially in citrus-growing regions of the American South. The caterpillar, which looks almost exactly like a bird poop, feeds on the leaves of orange and lemon trees, and can sometimes cause considerable damage. Like all swallowtail (Papilio) larvae, they possess a defensive organ called an "osmeterium" that looks like a snake's tongue and smells like rotting fruit.

The adult is huge, beautiful, and flies with a characteristic soaring-yet-nervous flight.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? The leaves of citrus trees.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Sometimes.
  • Is it rare? Common southward in the eastern US; similar subspecies throughout the western hemisphere.
  • What does it turn into? A beautiful orange and yellow butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.
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The white-marked tussock moth caterpillar

The white-marked tussock moth caterpillar

Orgyia leucostigma: The White-Marked Tussock Moth

These cool-looking caterpillars produce a quite plain and inconspicuous moth. They eat almost anything, including some decorative trees like hawthorn that cities tend to plant along roads and in plazas. Tussock moth caterpillars get their name from the little tufts of fur along their backs; apparently these are called "tussocks" in some parts of the world.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No, but it has stiff hairs that are irritating to some people.
  • What does it eat? Many trees, including ornamentals planted in urban areas.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes, it can be a real problem.
  • Is it rare? No.
  • What does it turn into? A small brown moth with a white mark on its wing.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, quite easily.

White-Marked Tussock Moth

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Butterfly Habitat

CAUTION! The southern flannel moth caterpillar, aka the puss moth caterpillar has a very powerful sting.

CAUTION! The southern flannel moth caterpillar, aka the puss moth caterpillar has a very powerful sting.

Megalopygidae opercularis: The Puss Moth, Asp, or Elvis Caterpillar

With its awesome pompadour and general slug-like build, this animal is sometimes referred to as the "Elvis Caterpillar." Puss moth caterpillars belong to the Megalopygidae family, which has a fair number of interesting-looking caterpillars. Many of these caterpillars have stinging hairs -- including the puss moth, which sometimes drops out of trees onto unlucky passersby! The sting of the puss moth is usually mild, though sensitive individuals can develop a more intense reaction.

Megalopygidae moths are relatively uncommon, and if you see one you're lucky -- but don't touch!

Nota bene: There's a moth in the UK called the Puss Moth, but it's in a different family (Notodontidae) and the caterpillars do not have stinging hairs.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? YES. This caterpillar has one of the worst stings of any Lepidopteran.
  • What does it eat? Oak, elm, and wild plum.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? It's not very common, but it's not rare.
  • What does it turn into? An interesting-looking insect called a "flannel moth."
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Best not to try!

Puss Caterpillar Moth

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CAUTION! This caterpillar stings.

CAUTION! This caterpillar stings.

Acharia stimulea: The Saddleback Caterpillar

This species belongs to the family Limacodidae, a group of moths that are better known as caterpillars. They move with suction-cup feet and sort of glide along, and are therefore commonly known as "slug caterpillars." Nearly all of them can sting, even though their spines and hairs are not always noticeable. The stinging rose caterpillar is one of them, as is the spine oak slug. There are many othersm some of which have truly bizarre appearances.

For true spines, though, the saddleback caterpillar has them all beat. It has obvious spines, protruding from four fleshy tubercles. These spines bear a kind of venom that causes welts, pain and itching when touched. Stay away from the spines, and you'll be safe -- like all caterpillars, saddlebacks move slowly and cannot fling or launch their spines, or themselves, at you or anything else.

The moth of this interesting species is a pretty chocolate brown, with tan and green markings. It is very seldom seen.

The Basics:

Scientific name: Acharia stimulea

Food Plant: a very wide variety of plants, including maple, dogwood, pecan, and crepe myrtle

Range: Southeastern US

Adult Moth: The adult is small and stout with dark-brown wings

Severity of Sting: This caterpillar has a sharp, painful sting, similar to a honeybee

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Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

Papilio troilus: The Spicebush Swallowtail

This is a cool caterpillar with fake snake eyes. The effect is even better when it sticks out its "osmeteria," a red, forked organ that it can stick out from behind its head when it's feeling bothered. The osmeteria looks a lot like the forked tongue of a snake, and it also smells bad. Pretty good defense for an otherwise tasty caterpillar! This one turns into the big, beautiful spicebush swallowtail.

The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No.
  • What does it eat? The spicebush, and other members of the genus Lindera.
  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? No.
  • Is it rare? No, but it's not very common in the northern states.
  • What does it turn into? A beautiful butterfly.
  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes.

Spicebush Swallowtail

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Explore More by Raising Caterpillars to Adulthood

Raising a caterpillar to the adult stage is a pretty cool science/home learning experience. You get to witness one of the natural world's most amazing events: the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Plus, you'll have the chance to definitively identify the insect you found.

Along the way, you'll learn about food plants, life stages, cocoons and chrysalises, parasites, and how scientists work in the lab with insects. Who knows -- there's a chance you or your little ones might start on the path to becoming a scientist some day.

If raising caterpillars sounds like a fun project, then I'd recommend housing them in a container designed to keep caterpillars safe and well-fed, like one of the products made by InsectLore caterpillar habitats. It's critically important that you keep them fed with fresh leaves from the exact plant on which you found them. If you found them wandering around, they're likely about to pupate. Some leaves or a paper towel on the bottom of the habitat will give them a place to cocoon.

More Fine Insect Guides on Owlcation

Striped Caterpillar Identification -- If your caterpillar has stripes, you might find it here.

Furry Caterpillar Identification -- Many moth caterpillars and a few butterfly caterpillars are furry or hairy. This guide includes some of the ones you're most likely to come across

Green Caterpillar Identification -- Green is the most common color for caterpillars, since they live among leaves and they can avoid predators by blending in.

Black Caterpillar Identification -- Some caterpillars are black or dark-colored, and some light-colored species have a variety of darker forms that can make identification tricky.

Insect Identification -- An entertaining and authoritative guide to the insects you're most likely to find in your garden or around your home.

And if you can't find it anywhere, there's a chance that it's actually a beetle larva. Have a look at my article about beetles right here.

Good luck!

Sources

These are some places you can find information about caterpillars and insects:

https://owlcation.com/stem/caterpillar-identification

http://www.panamainsects.org/

mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu

Questions & Answers

Question: I just found a caterpillar that is fuzzy, all black and appears to have two horns. What type of butterfly or moth has a caterpillar that is fuzzy, all black, and with two horns? I have a butterfly garden on my property, and have never seen this one before.

Answer: Fuzzy caterpillars are usually moths; often in the family Arctiidae. If you want to, you can send a picture of it to fredsbughouse@gmail.com

Question: I found a 1 1/2 inch solid light yellow hairy caterpillar. What kind is it? It was in my red Russian kale while I was preparing dinner. I've never noticed this kind before ( I grow organically, so I've seen some critters in my produce.)

Answer: This sounds like a yellow woolly bear.

Question: I found a caterpillar that seems to be a combination of two. It's fat, green and black. It also has an "eye." What could it be?

Answer: If it has one shiny "eye" at the rear, then it's most likely a sphinx moth in the genus Eumorpha.

Question: I found six bright orange caterpillars. They have bumps along their backs and have two horn-like protrusions. Can you tell me what they are and what they will become?

Answer: If they are furry, they could be milkweed tiger moth caterpillars.

Question: I have a green caterpillar which is small and has soft spikes on it. We ordered the caterpillars off insect lore, and they are supposed to be painted ladies. We've had them before, and this guy is just completely different what type of caterpillar is it?

Answer: Yes, it is not a painted lady. You could send a photo to identification@panaminsects.org.

Question: It's June in New Jersey, and I see quite a few inch-long furry white caterpillars. Their skin may be black or could be a narrow stripe. What kind of caterpillars are these, and are they harmful?

Answer: It could be the moth genus Datana which could be a pest.

Question: What are the types of green caterpillars?

Answer: There are many types of green caterpillars -- hundreds! Almost all of them are moth caterpillars, but if they're eating your cabbage and broccoli plants, then it's a kind of white butterfly.

Question: There is a caterpillar in my garden. It is black with little spikes. It's living in stinging nettles, and it is mainly black. Is it friendly?

Answer: This is the caterpillar of the Red Admiral butterfly.

Question: What is the name of a fuzzy black caterpillar?

Answer: Could be the giant leopard moth, Ecpantheria scribona.

Question: I saw a brown caterpillar in my citrus leaves. It became green after a few days. It has snake eyes but no forked tongue, what it is?

Answer: It could be caterpillar of the giant swallowtail; Papilio cresphontes.

Question: I found a fuzzy black Catapillar with small bendy spikes all over it. What is it, and is it poisonous? Can I raise it to adulthood?

Answer: It sounds like it could be leopard moth caterpillar. Look it up on Google and see.

Question: What kind of caterpillar looks like a wooly bear caterpillar, but has long gray hair on its back?

Answer: Probably a kind of tiger moth caterpillar in the family Arctiinae.

Question: My dad just found a large orange caterpillar. It has a single black band around what would be behind its head. It also looks somewhat fuzzy, but not hairy. What do you think it is?

Answer: This sounds like a tiger swallowtail caterpillar.

Question: I found a caterpillar that I cannot ID. It is bright yellow on the bottom, with a black and white design on top, bulbous black head like a skipper, and a horn on the rear. Any ideas as to what this could be?

Answer: It could be a catalpa sphinx.

Question: I found a gray caterpillar that camouflages with dry ground and trees, and I want to raise it. I found it in Arizona at my school. How should I raise it?

Answer: When you find a caterpillar, try to put it in with leaves from around the area where you found it. If it doesn't eat, it might be ready to pupate and turn into a moth or butterfly.

Question: I found caterpillars on my grapevines. They are small and are light green with lines of black dots. Do you know what it is?

Answer: It could be a young sphinx moth caterpillar. Look up "Abbott's Sphinx."

Question: I just found a Caterpillar on my milkweed, and it does not look like an ordinary monarch. It has yellow dots on individual segments, and very pointy antennas and horns. Also, it seems to have an extra pair of horns on the lower middle of its back, or the upper high part of its front. What type of Caterpillar is this?

Answer: This is most likely a milkweed tiger moth caterpillar. They usually hang out in groups.

Question: On my driveway, I found a brownish black caterpillar with black spots and a yellow underside. It's got two small tiny little pinchers on its butt. Do you know what kind of caterpillar it is? I can't find anything like it anywhere, and I didn't see it near any plants because it was just in the middle of my driveway and near some grass.

Answer: I think you found a kind of moth caterpillar. The moth is called an "underwing moth," it's scientific name "Catocala." Do a Google image search and see if you find a match!

Question: Which type of caterpillar is large and green, with yellow and black lines and a horn?

Answer: That's a kind of sphinx moth caterpillar. Could be "the sweet potato hornworm."

Question: I had what appeared to be a cluster of purple catapilers on the trunk of a pecan tree. There were a couple hundred in one pile. What are they?

Answer: It could be a kind of webworm moth. They sometimes gather in a mat. It could also be a group of buckmoth caterpillars, which sting.

Question: I saw a caterpillar with a grey bumpy back with white dots on it. Its belly is pink. It has a flat head jutting out of its body. On its bottom, there is a sting shaped body part which is aqua blue. It also has a yellow paste smeared on its bottom. It's roughly two inches long. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: This sounds like a sphinx moth caterpillar, possibly in the genus Hemaris, which is also known as the "hummingbird sphinx."

Question: I found a black caterpillar with orange fuzz and a yellow stripe on its back. Do you have any ideas what it is?

Answer: It could be a "yellow woolly bear," Spilosoma virginica.

Question: I found a green caterpillar munching on a rose leaf. Is it about two inches long with a light lateral stripe and a triangular end, almost like a wimple. What is it?

Answer: If it is it spiny, then it's the io moth, and it can sting. It could also be a kind of moth cateprillar in the family Notodontidae.

Question: I found a caterpillar that looks like a snake in Colorado. What is this called?

Answer: It could be a tiger swallowtail or a kind of sphinx moth in the genus Xylophanes.

Question: I was at a creek when I saw a white and black striped caterpillar crawling in the water. I picked it up, and the thing stung me. I have asked around and tried looking it up, but I cannot identify the little thing. Do you know what it is?

Answer: Not many caterpillars sting like that. It could be in one of the following groups: Megalopygidae, Lycosidae, or the genus Hemileuca.

Question: Are there any reports of puss caterpillars in New York, particularly in NYC and Long Island?

Answer: Yes, there are records, but they are quite rare there. They are mainly a southern species.

Question: Outside my window, I saw a green caterpillar with black and yellow stripes running parallel to his body. He had a red head, two long black prickly antennae, and a single long spiky tail that looked like a single antenna. He had four white bulbs in a row on his back. Any thoughts on what it could be?

Answer: This is the caterpillar of the white-marked tussock moth.

Question: I found a gray caterpillar with white and red spots on the underside. There were pincher type antenna but I don't know if it was front or back. It twisted violently. Is it a horned worm or caterpillar?

Answer: It's possible it could be a moth caterpillar genus Catocala, or maybe a pipevine swallowtail.

Question: I found a large green caterpillar that had a single large black dot on it, near the head. It was around 3-4 inches long, and voraciously eating away at my plant. What would that have turned into?

Answer: This sounds like a kind of sphinx moth caterpillar, family Sphingidae. The group includes tomato hornworms.

Question: My friend and I found a caterpillar that has a short green body with a yellow face. What kind could it be?

Answer: Probably a tiger swallowtail caterpillar. Nice find!

Question: What is the name of a black caterpillar with whitish hair?

Answer: It could be a fall webworm.

Question: Is there a green caterpillar that likes to eat apples, because mine does?

Answer: There are many! It is definitely a kind of moth caterpillar. It will turn into a medium-sized light brown moth.

Question: A short, smooth caterpillar with a black spine set up a cocoon on the leg of my deck chair. It rained four days later. The night after, it was gone. Do you know what it was?

Answer: If it was a cocoon and not a chrysalis, then it could be a kind of dagger moth.

Question: I have a green caterpillar, and its skin is brown. What should I do?

Answer: It's probably about to turn into a pupa, which is the stage before becoming an adult. Keep it safe and dry and be very patient.

Question: I found a thin caterpillar about the length of my pinky finger. It’s brown and well camouflaged, but its only defining feature is that it has black spots with orange rings around them on its belly. Its back looks like it would live on a tree, but I found it in the grass. Do you have any idea what it is?

Answer: This sounds like a moth in the genus Catocala.

Question: I found a dark red horned caterpillar with two bulbs on its head. What kind is it?

Answer: Sounds like it could be the pipevine swallowtail. Search on Google and see if that's right.

Question: My son sent me a picture of what he says is a tomato hornworm caterpillar, but it is not green and I don't see the horns, however, it is very large and brown. Any ideas?

Answer: I think what you described is a caterpillar of the pandorus sphinx moth, Eumorpha pandorus. Have a look online and see if it matches your description of being a very large and brown caterpillar. It's related to the tomato hornworm but very different in appearance.

Question: I live in the central valley of California, and I found a caterpillar about an inch long. It is green with a brown patterned line and a diamond on its back; its head is brown. It also has a long forked tail. What is it?

Answer: This is a kind of moth caterpillar in the family Notodontidae.

Question: What kind of Caterpillar eats green onions?

Answer: There are not many! Could be a striped garden caterpillar.

Question: I found a yellow caterpillar but with a black stripe down its back, it is not fuzzy or hairy but I have never seen a caterpillar-like this one, so I would like to know what species this is, please?

Answer: Could be a kind of stingless wasp called a sawfly.

Question: What is a medium brown caterpillar with darker triangles on its back?

Answer: That sounds like a cutworm moth in the genus Xestia. Find more at fredsbughouse.com.

Question: I found a pinkish caterpillar with a black triangle pattern. What will it turn into, does it bite, and can I raise it?

Answer: Sounds like a kind of cutworm. Yes you can raise it! No caterpillars can bite.

© 2012 GreenMind Guides

Comments

Kathy on August 27, 2020:

Recently i found two caterpillars on an Orange plant and I'm trying rearing them. Will they transform into gaint swallowtail?

Jan on August 27, 2020:

My caterpillars are living on grape leaves. They are yellow with black bands, two blue bands and a little bit of fuzz. I am raising them in a net "cage" after I accidentally pruned them off their food source. I am fond of them, as I see them grow every day.

What kind of butterfly or moth will they become?

Sue on August 17, 2020:

Found a very large light green caterpillar with orange/pinkish butt near lake in northern Ontario. Moved fast

WW Theiss on August 13, 2020:

We have some light brown caterpillars with a lighter brown streak down the side. They appear to have small dark brown/black ovals down in the light brown streak down the side.

We found them on some flowering plants we have outside.

Can you give me an idea of the species?

Samantha Martens on August 05, 2020:

I found a big, fat and green caterpillar with very tiny yellow spots ant a little bit of black spots in Illinois and has no fur . What is it?

Djurdja on August 01, 2020:

I've found a small, brown caterpillar. It has long spikes and i don't know what kind it is. It would be nice to know what kind it is.

sarayunk on July 29, 2020:

A week ago, I found a four inch caterpillar colored purple with light greenish white belly and hisses when I picked it. I live in Texas City, Texas and never seen such a beautiful caterpillar. I would like to know what kind of caterpillar is it. Thanks.

Crandon Crowell on July 27, 2020:

i found a tiny green caterpillar with black stripes and about 100 legs and i was wondering what it was .thankyou

Hawk on July 25, 2020:

I found a 2 inch green caterpillar with black head in a black butt with a spike sticking out of his butt in West Virginia I was just wondering what it is

Lydia on July 22, 2020:

Hi! Once i found a fuzzy grey caterpillar, it was large and very fat, and a few inches long. It had no spines or anything, and it was quite plain. Do you have any ideas on what it is?

Brenda on July 20, 2020:

I came across what looked like a caterpillar on my storm door outside. It had black leg with a white dot on each. It was completely clear (like invisible) other than the legs. It was about 1 1/2 inches long. Have you ever seen one of these.

Carolina Gorriz Santiago on July 18, 2020:

I found a caterpillar in Mexico that is brown with a black underside, black irregular markings, no hair or horns and the front end is bigger than the back end

Patricia Paluga on July 18, 2020:

God must have been very bored when he created these monsters! UGG!

Zildjian on July 12, 2020:

I found a big caterpillar that is green and has no fur. It also has yellow spots surrounded by black. Can you please identify

Jess on July 06, 2020:

I found a hairy caterpillar with red sports on her back and she was black what is she? And I am keeping her in a butterfly habitat until she grows up.

Rita Johnson on July 05, 2020:

I found about 2" grey caterpillar eating my sunflower leaves . Smooth skin. ID please.

Danyel Esser on July 05, 2020:

We found a green caterpillar in our backyard in North East Ohio and it has an orange mark on its back. Wondering what kind it is? We haven’t been able to identify it. Thanks!

Carol Kistela on September 08, 2019:

I found a rusty colored, orangey, patterned small caterpillar. It’s not fuzzy at all, but I would say it looks kind of camouflaged as far as the pattern goes, but with dark, almost brown markings ( wish I could send a picture ) I found it on a school playground.......we took a long look, saw his suction cup feet, and put him back on a tree.....I have pictures, but don’t know how to spots them here.

GreenMind Guides (author) from USA on August 26, 2019:

Barbara -- It's likely a spicebush. They come in green, brown, orange, and shades in between

Sue Schultz on August 14, 2019:

Found a caterpillar. He's 2.5 to 3.0" long. Has a little forked tail that sticks up. Color greenish/gray. Nose and rear are lighter green. About 0.5" in diameter and has a couple little tentacles on his forehead. Wind Lake, Wisconsin

GreenMind Guides (author) from USA on August 01, 2019:

Hi -- sounds like a saddleback caterpillar. Do a google search. I bet that's it.

FLL on June 27, 2019:

I recently found a green caterpillar it is turned into a cocoon and I don’t know what it is if I send in a photo can you tell me

Magime on June 26, 2019:

I found a caterpillar today light green, black v marks on body and pale red bands all around its body. Found in North Wales, UK. Thanks

Name on June 24, 2019:

I'm trying to find caterpillar... there very hard! I live in maryland and I am trying really hard because I want to take care of a caterpillar that is not posionus nor has spikes and is easy to take care of, any recommendations?

Poop on June 23, 2019:

I found a green caterpillar with a reddish/brown head. I wonder how to keep it alive...

Sylvie on June 20, 2019:

We found Caterpillars in Ohio and it is small and black and yellow and fuzzy we are trying to find out what type of Caterpillar they are

Rai'Onah on June 17, 2019:

I found a caterpillar that I didn't see on the list it's kind of light green, it has yellow spots, a blackhead, and black spots down its back it also has hair sticking out of it does anybody know what it is?

Help please on June 17, 2019:

I found a caterpillar that is a glossy black color with two goldish white stripes on either side of its body

Autumn Sweeny on June 16, 2019:

We captured a caterpillar that is about the size and shape of a pinkie finger and had no antennae, horns, spikes, etc. It is brown and speckled and looks remarkably like tree bark or a stick. It sort of cocooned itself in a little bit of sticky silk stuff and stuck leaves together around itself.

Elroux Norton on June 16, 2019:

How can I make this info readily available

Troy on June 13, 2019:

I found this caterpillar on my sidewalk. Its is a dark mixture of green and brown and has tan yellow strips. Ive tryed finding it but i havent found anything. Plz help!!!

Kyle on June 11, 2019:

I found this Caterpillar In a bag that I had a part of a butterfly bush in and he’s dark red on the top and yellow on the bottom. He’s not fuzzy he looks kinda slimy

Faith on June 09, 2019:

I found a small green caterpillar with a yellowish head and small black spots... do u know what it is?

Monkeygirl on June 09, 2019:

Ok, so my sis found this ugly little orange Caterpiller that looked kinda scaly and it was oozing this brown stuff out of it’s head.

I even tried identifying it on INaturalist but no results found it.

Cay on June 07, 2019:

I found a caterpillar that is a mixture of brown, orange, and green. It has four little tubular things on its back. I mistook it for a leaf at first. What kind could this be? (Illinois)

Mac on June 04, 2019:

Found this in the grass. Salt Lake City, Utah. Any ideas on what it is?

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0SPSZP1wNJPStmJ_9D...

Rather not on June 03, 2019:

We have a black caterpillar with 3 yellowish stripes

A dragon that like someone pie. on June 01, 2019:

I live near austin Texas, and found a small green caterpillar about 1.5-2 centimeters long and super thin. It has a small white horizontal stripe with a black one on top of it. It also has smaller and less bright stripes horizontally covering it, with a reddish brown head. I couldn’t seem to identify it. What is it?

Sharon on May 31, 2019:

I found a pink & green colored caterpillar with white hairs in Tucson, AZ. Does anyone have any idea what kind of butterfly or moth it might be? It crawled inside our apartment & I picked it up with a napkin & put it on my aloe plant.

Jessica on May 27, 2019:

My daughter and I found a caterpillar Dark reddish Brn with red spikes. We couldn’t find any info on your page for identifying. We wanted to know more so we could build it a habitat.

Alexis Gomez on May 24, 2019:

I found a Green caterpillar with one long line on either side of it. It was eating my tomato leaves. what was it??

Sarah A Dragonfly on May 20, 2019:

I found caterpillar that’s brown with black triangles on it. What could it be?

Bonnie Gauthier on May 16, 2019:

Was out running errands,and found a LARGE fuzzy caterpillar on the sidewalk. It is all black, 3 inches long,and has rusty/reddish colored feet. I have it in a woodland set -up aquarium,along with my woolly bears (so cool! ). I live in upper northeast CT, and have never seen this type before. Can you help me find out about it? Is it dangerous to plants/animals? Can I raise it to adulthood?

THANKS !

Mary Strenge on May 16, 2019:

Our wooded area has some very large cocoon sacks filled with small black and green worms. We are concerned these critters may kill our trees. Any information would be helpful. The "sacks" are usually about 2x4 inches and hang on flowering bushes.

salty beans on May 15, 2019:

Ok so i found a caterpillar, and i'll try my best to describe it.

about 1 inch (2.5 cm)

brown

3 light brown lines going down the caterpillar vertically

thicker (maybe swollen or pregnant) around the abdomen

black shiny head with same 3 white line pattern as its body

dark green under bottom

hope the detail helps, thanks! also, i live in reynoldsburg, ohio, for region

Dog Girl on May 11, 2019:

I fond a caterpillar that had brown fuzzy tenticals, what type of caterpillars are they? Also what do black and orange caterpillars eat?

Caterpillar Finder on May 03, 2019:

Mine has orange head and but is a little fuzzy able to pet and has spots it looks kind 9f like a spitfire but its not i searched it so if i could have help that would be amazing it also was found on a grape vine.

bunny on May 02, 2019:

Mine is all brown and kinda looks like the eastern tint but its very different what is mine please help?

Lily on April 25, 2019:

I found a small black with yellow lines on the side but it doesn’t have a stinger in the back like the one it looks like above? What kind is it??

Unknown on April 23, 2019:

I found a caterpillar no hair brown and camoflauged and it turned into a brown orange pupa and Ike a little more than a week later my mom found one while folding clothes

The alien on April 22, 2019:

I found a brown caterpillar with two small horn s in its head and it looks like a tree bark. It also has 6 legs on the front and four nubs on the back. I live in Texas. What is it?

noneyabeeswax on April 22, 2019:

i found a small blackish and dark green caterpillar. no spikes. i live in WA what is it?

V on April 21, 2019:

I found a green caterpillar with a black head hanging from my tree

Nick on April 18, 2019:

I found a 1.5 cm long caterpillar in some mint leaves. I'm in the valleys of California. It's dark brown on the top half and light tan on the bottom. On the sides it has a really thin whitish stripe down its whole body. In that same whitish color, it has small dots in little intervals above the whole stripe. I consulted a entomology friend of mine and they said that it was likely to be a moth but I'm not sure. It doesn't have an hair.

Tayler on April 18, 2019:

Hey, I found one that’s green black and has little yellow spots. Also he’s got a spike one his bottom. He’s got a black yellow and black again line on his back... I have got no idea what he is ...help? Btw his head and bottoms a butterscotch color.

Jerrie Miller on April 13, 2019:

I found an all white caterpillar about an inch and a half long on an immature Redwood tree near Santa Cruz CA. It is hairless and appears to have individually plated segaments on the abdomen. Do you know what it might be?

Alex on April 02, 2019:

After swimming, my girlfriend and I were laying on the grass just taking in some sun in my backyard. All the sudden she jumps back and tells me not to move. She's looking at my leg and I'm pretty much freaking out at this point but she's insisting that I remain completely still. I could feel something on my leg but wasn't sure if it was her or whatever was on me. I'm like, what the hell is on me and she says that she doesn't know exactly, but she said it could be a caterpillar of some sorts. So I'm feeling a little better now and then she says that it looks way to big to be a caterpillar. So I was like get it the hell off me. She tells me to hold still for one more sec cuz she wants to take a picture of it and I'm in full on freak out mode at this point ready to jump up and do some African fast foot dance to get this thing off me. I hear her camera flash sound and so I yell at her to get it off me. So she's moving in all slow and like lightning fast I feel her grab it and I feel this excruciatingly burning feeling like I've never felt before. I hear her say, "Oh my God, Alex!" as I'm writhing around in pain and so as I was looking down to see what ever it is on my leg I asked her, "What's the oh my god for?" She gets up and starts running to the house. I didn't know anything at this point except how much pain I was in. I look down and don't see anything. I jump up real quick, frantically looking over everything and there's nothing there. I walk up to the back door of the house to find my girlfriend sitting there in this dazed, shocked kind of upset yet smiling. She looks at me as I'm staring back at her for some kind of explanation as to what just happened and to see if she caught whatever was on me. She calmly says, "No, you dumbass!" And turns out it was no giant caterpillar but just my dong hanging out of the bottom of my swim trunks. I have since nick-named it "The Monarch"!

Do you know if this is a caterpillar or worm on March 30, 2019:

I found something I don’t know if It’s even a caterpillar it might be a worm it’s all brown yeah

Me on March 29, 2019:

I found one that’s yellow with black stripes but it is NOT a cinnabar catapillar

abe on March 24, 2019:

I found a brownish thing that looks like a catepiller is it a worm or a catepiller

Max on March 12, 2019:

I found a white caterpillar with tiny black dots and sharp black spikes eating on what I believe to be an invasive Florida skunk vine. I was just curious about what it might be.

Ayla Eynaud on March 06, 2019:

I found a very large green caterpillar, that had a pattern of 6 or so upside down V’s in black and white colours down its topside. At its bottom were little yellow protuberant spots. At its head was a long black horn with little spikes coming off it.

At the tip of its head were the same but larger yellow spots on the top and underside. It was large and thick and my cat brought it inside from somewhere. Couldn’t match it to any of these

Barry is an Ice Survivor on February 09, 2019:

I revived a brown one with light brown and black stripes from the ice. I couldn't find it on the list and don't know what it eats. What is it called?

Bryleigh McGowan on November 22, 2018:

I found a light orange/dull butterscotch-colored caterpillar with a brownish purple line on the back.The line looks as if it starts from the top of the head and ends all the way to the back end.It has small black pinchers by it’s mouth and cream colored pinchers on it’s butt.It has only two lines of white fuzz on it’s sides.it’s about as small as an olive. Compared to all of the other pictures of caterpillars I’ve seen, this one doesn’t have much fuzz at all.

Peter Pearce on November 14, 2018:

i have found a very large black Caterpillar with a horn right on its rear end. i live in Spain.

Dhgv on November 06, 2018:

I found a caterpillar in my backyard and it has long and separated stripes and it was black and it tried burrowing into the dirt. Do you have any jdea what it might be

AK Tisyo Kelley on November 06, 2018:

Heyo, I found this funky lil brown caterpillar (not hairy) in my house, and I want to know what type it is so I can feed it. It's mainly brown, with a lighter underbelly, and a dark brown top, with black patterns outlined in a sort of yellow brown color. Any help would be great. I would post a picture if I could, but I'm new to this site, and figuring out how it all works

Ansh on October 21, 2018:

Hello, my friend caught a green caterpillar with pale yellowish lines and stripes, only in some parts of it's body, not whole. I don't know what kind of a caterpillar it is. It also has a bright yellow coloured head and my friend has decided to keep it until it becomes a butterfly/moth. Please tell if it's harmful or not and please tell what species is it.

Derek on October 14, 2018:

I need help i dont wath eat my caterpillar his color is yellow and black if someone nose just tell my

Jose Espinoza on October 12, 2018:

I found a caterpiller at my school being ATTACKED by ants and after I saved it I had know clue what it was.

Leeyah on October 09, 2018:

I have a caterpillar in my room and I don’t know what kind of caterpillar it is. It is a light green color with purple squares or something on its back

No name on October 07, 2018:

I found a caterpillar that has 3 stripes it is black then orange then black

Michelle Na'ayem on October 05, 2018:

Hi! I found a 3” rust colored smooth caterpillar with yellow bands and green head and tail. We are in Oklahoma. Any ideas? Thank you!

Sharlene on October 03, 2018:

I live in Barcelona, Spain and yesterday, found two beautiful bright green caterpillars with black stripes and Brigit orange dots, amongst my parsley plant. They look to be black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Is that possible in Europe? And shall I just leave them in the parsley with a strong stick to cling to?

Lukaa on October 01, 2018:

I saw a Mourning Cloak caterpillar on the sidewalk when I was very young. I was afraid to touch it because I thought it might sting, but I didn't want it to get smashed so I let it crawl onto a piece of paper and carried it home. It pupated soon after (thank goodness because I didn't know what kind of leaves it ate) and became a butterfly which we let go in our yard once its wings dried off. One of the happiest experiences of my life.

Julia on September 28, 2018:

My son saw a brown fuzzy caterpillar that looks like a twig and has itchy hairs now there are loads of them on a bush. What are they and will it become a butterfly or a moth. If it’s a moth will it have a mouth and will the caterpillars spin a cocoon?

John Gladstone on September 27, 2018:

John Gladstone.We found a large Catapillar in my sons backyard here in San Diego. I have some good pictures of it and would like to be able to identify exactly what type of Catapillar it is and what type of moth or butterfly it will turn into. Where do I send these pictures and get an answer to my question?

Hailey on September 23, 2018:

I found a caterpillar that's all orange and fuzzy. I haven't touched it so i don't know if it tingles or what.

Random Person on September 23, 2018:

I found a red striped caterpillar, with spikes. It's green, too. It only has stripes on its sides, and has very long antennas. It tingles when I touch it, but not hairy. Is it poisonous? It has little bumps everywhere too. I think it's scared of me. Should I not touch it?

alex on September 22, 2018:

i found a catapillar green with dark green no hair

lines have ideas

JENNY on September 18, 2018:

We found quite a few caterpillars, all the same, when we were hop picking. Quite big and furry, yellow with black uniform markings across it. Any ideas?

Sahil on August 31, 2018:

I am from Punjab,India and found a three different caterpillars in the previous two weeks but am unable to find their info , not even from net

Barbidahl on August 30, 2018:

Hi :) I live in CT. It has been brutally humid. Tonight I saw a huge, brownish black caterpillar outside on my stone steps. And I mean huge, as thought it was a thick baby snake at first! It had a large whitish 'helmet' on the top of it's head with a huge oval black dot in the middle of the white 'helmet'. When I touched it, it would flick very fast from side to side in a circular motion. It was very thick around and very long, about 3" long. NO hairs and super smooth. I took pix and enlarged them to see a million round white circles on it's body and a rear end horn. It seemed slow moving and docile. I picked it up with my hands and it did not try to bite me and just stayed still on my hand, clinging with it's suction cup legs. I brought him to the brush and trees on my property and gently let him go on the grass. He stayed there. I checked on him about 20 minutes later and it was gone. I have never seen this type of huge, huge caterpillar at night or any time in my lifetime here in Connecticut. I have pix but can't upload one here? Do you know what this seemingly rare caterpillar is here in East Hampton CT with lots of farms and woods around me? And what kind of moth or butterfly would it turn into? Thank you ever so much!! Best regards, Barb

Pauline on August 22, 2018:

I have just found a caterpillar that was dark in colour, no hair, no distinguishable head and three black spots down each side at the front of the body and about three inches long, does anybody know what it might be?

Faith on August 21, 2018:

I have a big tree next to my porch and it has about 1000 white caterpillars with black heads what kind are these and what will they turn into?

Lily huddleston on August 19, 2018:

I just found these green caterpillars with black stripes and small yellow stripes.

Fran on August 18, 2018:

Have a lot of theses guys on my milkweed therer cute to look at.

Cj on August 14, 2018:

Grandson found a 1 1/2” catopiller reddish brown in color eating my leaves on the pond water Lilly’s any info on what it will be

Cody on August 04, 2018:

I found a group of yellow and black caterpillars with a main color of peach-cream color what are their names and what are they going to turn into.

Lnda on August 03, 2018:

Love this website. I used to raise caterpillars. It was always exciting to see what came out of the cocoon or chrysalis

hello hello on August 03, 2018:

we found a moth with a green body and a brown back in cornwall it has a spicky thing at the end of it and is about 3 inches long

Ciara on August 01, 2018:

I have a black Caterpillar with a red head can someone please help me I can’t find what type it is.!?

alliekat18 on July 31, 2018:

I have what I thought were Papilio Machaon caterpillars, however my boyfriend is convinced they are Papilio Polyxenes, is there any sure way to tell the difference between the caterpillars?

GreenMind Guides (author) from USA on July 30, 2018:

Hi -- it could be Eacles imperialis, the imperial moth.

Hope on July 30, 2018:

Found a big greeb catepillar with tiny white horns throughout its body and yellow feet. Ontario canada

I found a brown striped caterpillar, it seems to have a retractable tail on July 26, 2018:

Brown

Striped

Harmony Hull on July 16, 2018:

I found a light yellow ish tan Catapillar. I have found 3 in the past 3 days. It has black dots on the top left and right going straight to the butt end from the head end. It has little white furs. What kind is it. I can tell that it will become a moth but unsure as to what type.

Kris Kelly on July 12, 2018:

My daughter just found a giant green caterpillar this afternoon at the base of a dogwood tree in the grass. It isnt really moving, just kind of limp. Not sure if its injured, dying or what. We put it in our caterpillar house with some leaves and sticks. Silk worm moth? Luna moth? Its about 100 degrees here today.

Andria Garriott on July 11, 2018:

We found strange looking catapillers today by Johnson Creek and The Spring Water Trail they had black and white stripes and no fur or spines of any kind but they did have thin almost invisible clear hair and no white stripes and one was bigger than the other one they were very interesting I even have a picture of them

Someone on July 10, 2018:

I just found a Caterpillar that's brown with very big bright green spots, the poop coming out of this thing is huge for a caterpillar! I keep looking on the internet to see if it's poisonous or not, but i have found NOTHING that look even a little bit like it.

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