Caterpillar Types and Identification Guide

Updated on August 26, 2018
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I have studied insects for nearly forty years, and I have also done battle with my share of garden pests.

I Found a Caterpillar. What Will it Turn Into?

Did you find a caterpillar outside, and you're wondering what kind of butterfly or moth it will turn into? Would you like to raise it to an adult? Find out the name of your caterpillar, what it eats, and what it turns into with the help of this quick and easy caterpillar identification guide.

There are more things you may want to know about the caterpillar you found. Does it sting? Is it rare? This guide will answer your questions about many of the most commonly found caterpillars in North America. 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.

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 species 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.

Caterpillars: An Overview

Caterpillars are the larval stage of 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 never see most of 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!

Most caterpillars live their lives quietly eating leaves (and, of course, pooping). They rarely do any damage to the plant they live on. Sometimes, however, caterpillars can seriously harm trees and other plants. The gypsy moth caterpillar is a serious pest of oak forests in the northern US. Other caterpillars attack garden plants. If you grow tomatoes, chances are good you've come across the Tomato Hornworm, a big green monster that can destroy a tomato plant in less than a week.

Monarch Caterpillar

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

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

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

Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Halysidota harrisii: The Sycamore Tussock

This species 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. In some ways, it looks cooler as a caterpillar than as a moth, but that's just my opinion! Check out the Sycamore Tussock Moth below and let me know what you think.

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

Which Do You Prefer?

Do you think the Sycamore Tussock moth or caterpillar looks cooler?

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Cecropia 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

Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar

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

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Source

Pyrrharctia isabella: The 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.

Wooly Bear Tiger Moth

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

Io Moth Caterpillar

Have You Ever Found a Yellow Woolly Bear Caterpillar?

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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

Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms

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

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.


Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 10 Lb
Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade 10 Lb

Picking caterpillars off by hand is my preferred method of control, but when that won't work, I will use Diatomaceous Earth. It's non-toxic (this product is "food grade," meaning it's as safe as the groceries you buy) and has been used to control insects of all kinds for over a hundred years.

 

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

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar

Lymantrie 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.

Male Gypsy Moth

Forest Tent Caterpillar

Malacosoma americanum: The Eastern 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 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

Hickory Horned Devil

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)

Pandorus Sphinx Moth

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

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

Mourning Cloak 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

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

American dagger
American dagger

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

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

White-Marked Tussock 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

Butterfly Habitat

Puss Moth Caterpillar

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

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

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

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.

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/

Didn't Find Your Caterpillar Here?

Maybe you'll find it on one of these fine Owlcation guides:

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.

Tomato Caterpillar Identification -- When your tomato plants seems to be disappearing before your eyes, these caterpillars are probably to blame. Here's how to find them and deal with them.

Good luck!

Questions & Answers

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

    Fuzzy caterpillars are usually moths; often in the family Arctiidae. If you want to, you can send a picture of it to identification@panamainsects.org.

  • 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?

    This sounds like a tiger swallowtail caterpillar.

  • 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.)

    This sounds like a yellow woolly bear.

  • 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?

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

  • 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?

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

© 2012 GreenMind Guides

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    • profile image

      Dhgv 

      7 days ago

      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

    • profile image

      AK Tisyo Kelley 

      7 days ago

      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

    • profile image

      Ansh 

      3 weeks ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Derek 

      4 weeks ago

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

    • profile image

      Jose Espinoza 

      4 weeks ago

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

    • profile image

      Leeyah 

      4 weeks ago

      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

    • profile image

      No name 

      5 weeks ago

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

    • profile image

      Michelle Na'ayem 

      5 weeks ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Sharlene 

      5 weeks ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Lukaa 

      6 weeks ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Julia 

      6 weeks ago

      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?

    • profile image

      John Gladstone 

      6 weeks ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Hailey 

      7 weeks ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Random Person 

      7 weeks ago

      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?

    • profile image

      alex 

      7 weeks ago

      i found a catapillar green with dark green no hair

      lines have ideas

    • profile image

      JENNY 

      8 weeks ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Sahil 

      2 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Barbidahl 

      2 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Pauline 

      2 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Faith 

      2 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Lily huddleston 

      2 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Fran 

      2 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Cj 

      3 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Cody 

      3 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Lnda 

      3 months ago

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

    • profile image

      hello hello 

      3 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Ciara 

      3 months ago

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

    • profile image

      alliekat18 

      3 months ago

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      GreenMind Guides 

      3 months ago from USA

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

    • profile image

      Hope 

      3 months ago

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

    • profile image

      I found a brown striped caterpillar, it seems to have a retractable tail 

      3 months ago

      Brown

      Striped

    • profile image

      Harmony Hull 

      4 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Kris Kelly 

      4 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Andria Garriott 

      4 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Someone 

      4 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      jgarner1327 

      4 months ago

      I found three of these smooth gold and black caterpillars on a kale-looking weed and have never seen this kind before. About 3 cm long. Can you identify it for me? where can i post a picture?

    • profile image

      Somebody 

      4 months ago

      I found This caterpillar has a flat head jutting out of its grey body. It's belly is pink. If you look at it from the top,you can see small white dots on its back. On it's back, it has a greenly blue sting shaped body part, and a yellow paste smeared onto its bottom. I know it's not a slug as there is no trail of slime, but it moves slowly like a caterpillar, and if touched, will immediately become a small coil shape. Its back is bumpy. Please tell me, have I found a new species?

    • profile image

      someone 

      4 months ago

      i found a grayish caterpillar with little red lines with yellow whit spots on it with little tufts of hair and i don't know if its poisonous

    • profile image

      Jule 

      4 months ago

      I found a cocoon with a web thing around it, it’s green with a darker underneath and it is very small. It also has a white head on the cocoon. I hope this is enough info. I believe it has just settled into the cocoon and is still very young.

    • profile image

      lauren 

      5 months ago

      I found a white black and yellow catapillar. it is not on here. whare can I find it?

    • profile image

      Hayden Palm 

      5 months ago

      I found two little guys in the woods of Utah. Main body color black, light brown stripes go across their backs. Black fur on top, a lighter brown fur / spikes on bottom. Bottom of the catipillar is light brown. I've been raising them with my swallowtails, monarchs and painted ladies.

    • profile image

      Jasmine 

      5 months ago

      I found a fussy goldish catipillar about an inch and a half left no with a black stripe down it’s back, a black underbelly and black tufts of longer hairs in random spots. Do you know what it is?

    • profile image

      Begginpuppy 

      5 months ago

      I found a caterpillar in my driveway it was pretty big, I thought it was a Elephant Hawk Moth but it was lighter and didn’t have a big front. It had small

      orange and brown spots on its sides and it was a base creamy brown. What kind of caterpillar was it? (I live in the NWT)

    • profile image

      Mindy 

      5 months ago

      Great site. Found my caterpillar. White marked tussock moth.

      Thank you for the info

    • profile image

      Christian 

      5 months ago

      Mine is a

      Rainbow with spines

    • profile image

      lyric 

      6 months ago

      I did not know there fuzzy kinds!

    • profile image

      AnnaPiePie 

      6 months ago

      My caterpillar is light green with a bunch of little black dots on it in a line several of these lines on the caterpillar it feeds on my grape vines

      what type of caterpillar is it I try searching things like "caterpillar that feeds on grapevine" but none look like the ones I saw in my backyard

    • profile image

      Anastasia 

      6 months ago

      I found a cool caterpillar with a half of a sqare outline and it is about 2-3 inches long. But I'm not sure what it is. Or 8f it's rare. Can you tell me 8f you find 1. And also 6ell me what it will turn into if you find out?

    • profile image

      Unknown 

      6 months ago

      My dog just ate a catapillar that was brown with a darker brown patern down it's back. Is that ok?

    • profile image

      Jai 

      6 months ago

      i want to take care of this black fluffy catiplliar with a yellow stripe on its back although i found in on my dad's flip flop. do u have an idea of what it might be? please respond soon!

      thanks,

      Jai

    • profile image

      laura 

      6 months ago

      i have lots of black and green / yellow caterpilars in my back garden in south of spain wanted to k ow if they are moths or butterflies how can i tell???

      many thanks

    • profile image

      Kianna 

      6 months ago

      I found a green Caterpillar and don't now what is is and where i should put is back. And should it bee on my finger?

    • profile image

      Donna McCormack 

      6 months ago

      Found a large caterpillar on my sweet pea plant. med. brown, 1 1/2 inches long, slight white spots on the side, two protruding suckers at one end. I have pics but don't see how to send them to you. I think it's probably a moth.

    • profile image

      Steven 

      6 months ago

      I found a caterpillar and it is brown and grey and black do you have any ideas on what it might be

    • profile image

      Dani 

      6 months ago

      I found a brown and black caterpillar on my carpet and I put it outside i don’t know what it is do u

    • profile image

      Mr. Noatak 

      7 months ago

      Many years ago, in Washington state I saw a hairless white caterpillar that was larger than average. On top of its rear end was a bright-blue thorn-shaped hard appendage (curved) that pointed towards it's head. It looked threatening and behaved aggressively when I tried to touch it; it seemed to be trying to attack me with its "thorn". Snow-white with a bright-blue thorn- this must be a common species, right?

    • profile image

      Lil caterpillars 

      7 months ago

      I have a lot of these black caterpillars with yellow-ish dots going down a ling from the head to its behind...I also have one gray-ish caterpillar...which my family member told me about...I haven't seen it in person. I would LOVE to know if these are moths or butterflies...or both.

    • profile image

      Caterpillars 

      7 months ago

      I have a small caterpillar that looked like a cabbage looper at first but a few days later it's front legs turned black what type is it?

    • profile image

      Kelv 

      7 months ago

      I found a really small bright green caterpillar it doesnt have hair and idk where its face is also idk what its gonna grow into

    • profile image

      Randy Carey 

      8 months ago

      Found lo moth catapillars all I’ve my hibiscus eating the leaves how long does it take to turn into a larve

    • profile image

      Piggy 

      8 months ago

      Well Moonmonkey155, that was very descriptive... OF COUSE I CAN TELL YOU WHAT THAT IS!!!!

    • profile image

      Moonmonkey155 

      8 months ago

      I found a really small green caterpillar. its not furry or spikey. its in a cocoon right now and it kinda looks like silk. anyone know what kind it is????

    • profile image

      Lindsey 

      8 months ago

      I found a caterpillar its green not fury and has no face. Can anyone tell me what kind itf is

    • profile image

      Jaidyn 

      9 months ago

      I cant find out what caterpillar it is

      Its brown with black and yellow strips and its not furry

    • profile image

      akshay girish padvi 

      10 months ago

      i found a one caterpillar nad i dont know which is it who one tell me plz what type it and want to keeping it....

    • profile image

      Kimberly 

      11 months ago

      I saw a red head caterpillar right here in jamaica with black and yellow stripes and soft like feet. I came on here hoping to see one but did not what type is it

    • profile image

      Sakuya 

      11 months ago

      I have a black and white caterpiller. What type of butterfly will it become?

    • profile image

      Ginny Rosenbaum 

      11 months ago

      I found A really weird caterpillar in Belton, Texas, and We thought it is a Salt Moth Caterpillar but we checked here just incase and it didn't say anything, We found it near the lake and on some rocks, eats a lot, and is really Black and Fuzzy, Has a white mouth, and the Salt Moth Caterpillars aren't poisonous despite there fuzz, but we wanna make sure before we pick it up. Any Help on what kind it is??

    • profile image

      Heidi Schultz 

      11 months ago

      My friend sent me a picture of a Catipilar that stings him down. I advised him to be cautious, some are poisonous. I help Monarchs, but I'm not aware of this Cat. Any help will be much appreciated.

    • profile image

      Dylan 

      11 months ago

      I found a gray, white, and red caterpillar with a gray horn and is 2 inches. I found it at a parking lot and idk what to do. This caterpillar is very big and looks like its gonna turn into a pupa. Will it turn to a moth or butterfly? Plz tell me. Plus it like to go on dirt.

    • profile image

      vicki 

      12 months ago

      black with red feet about 3 inches long. what kind is it. caterpiller.

    • profile image

      Brenda 

      12 months ago

      I was just letting my fennel die out because no bulb was produced, and after coming back from a short trip I spied 11 caterpillars on the struggling plants. Your web site id'ed them as black swallow tails--I'm so thrilled. I'm again watering the plants and will protect the caterpillars with mesh. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Robert 

      13 months ago

      Yesterday morning my dogs were terrified by a 5 inch long caterpillar as thick as your index finger smooth skin pail green with a diamond pattern down its back and a spike pointed towards the head from the tail end. I cannot find any photo that matches it on the internet, any idea what it was.

    • profile image

      rodney 

      13 months ago

      great post ,thanks for the information. The one that is missing that we see in ohio alot is the small white butterflies.

    • profile image

      Sandy Fitzharris 

      13 months ago

      I found one of these Awesome caterpillars on a plant on my deck, so happy to see what he will become! Thank you!

    • profile image

      Joe 

      13 months ago

      Found but can’t ID

      Pink caterpillar with short vertical red stripes on rose bush.

    • profile image

      Jason brendon 

      13 months ago

      I have the tiger swollow tail caterpiller

    • profile image

      Liisa Hostetler 

      13 months ago

      Found this buddy on my snapdragons. Cannot ID. Can you help? Light green with small purple spots along the ridge of his back.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      14 months ago from Wisconsin

      This was very interesting. I'll pass this on to friends who homeschool. They would find it handy.

    • profile image

      Ann Stier 

      14 months ago

      Climbing up tree in Saint Peter, Mn.

    • profile image

      Ashley 

      14 months ago

      I found a hickory horn devil caterpillar.

    • Debbie Cordwell profile image

      Debbie Cordwell 

      14 months ago

      Beautiful images.

    • profile image

      Jeff 

      15 months ago from USA

      Yeah, lots of cool caterpillars.

    • profile image

      dianne oliger 

      15 months ago

      Thank you so much. We found a very interesting caterpillar and I now know it's the milkweed tiger moth caterpillar!

    • profile image

      rita 

      15 months ago

      what does a wooly black and white caterpillar turn into

    • Breelyn Sirk profile image

      Breelyn 

      15 months ago

      The tiger swallowtail caterpillar sort of reminds me of a salamander, the amphibian type. Am I even crazier than I originally thought ? Haha

    • Megan Machucho profile image

      Megan Machucho 

      15 months ago from Milwaukee, WI

      Great information! My daughter is always finding caterpillars outside and asking me what kind they are or what they'll turn in to. I'll have to keep referring back to this article!

    • Breelyn Sirk profile image

      Breelyn 

      16 months ago

      Wow this guide is amazing. I am awed with how much you know about caterpillars... for the longest time I really didn't like to get too close to creepy crawlies haha, but now that I am older and wiser, I am dying to take an Entomology class because insects are so fascinating.

    • profile image

      kitana 

      18 months ago

      I found a caterpillar but I don't know what type it is

    • profile image

      Dodo 

      19 months ago

      I found a few (7) white tussock caterpillars on my dads car a few days ago and now they live in the house in a milk jug and a jar. 4 of them passed away, 2 of them are now in what I suppose to be cocoons. I don't know where one is and the other is still young, and it just grew it's tussocks.

    • profile image

      yvonne stanbury 

      19 months ago

      i have just found a green two toned caterpilla about 2 inch long very aggressive and a large spike on its head i have looked through your pictures of caterpillars but it is not there i would like to know what it is

    • profile image

      Stephanie.k. 

      2 years ago

      I found a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar a few weeks ago and I believe he has now made a cucoon under my railing on my steps. I've been watching it's progress and it's pretty cool. Louisville, ky

    • profile image

      rabbitninja 

      2 years ago

      i found a rly hyper fuzzy caterpillar east long island new york october 3rd today. it had yellow on its black face and soft brown and orange fur. but it wasn't a wooly bear its not banded like that. it was kinda all brown body with orange fuzzy around it. super fuzzy and cute.

    • profile image

      Any Ortiz 

      2 years ago

      My daughter found a yellow green caterpillar with yellow spikes and is big I need to know is it poisonous or not?

    • profile image

      P.Nik 

      2 years ago

      Today I found 7 green caterpillars, they are adorable and have a white stripe in their sides and two dots on their heads, any idea?

      + they keep on eating and eating! What do I do? I have school tomorow, will they last with7-12 branches? (Small)

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      What an awesome collection of photos of caterpillars and butterflies. Real awesome to see them in living color. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Gemma woolsey 

      2 years ago

      I have a unknown plant in garden covers in catapiller but I can't find what they are and if there dangerous they have a orange head with green and orange body with black spots all over and no ferr or spikes

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      2 years ago from United States

      Think I saw a red admiral caterpillar on a rose bush today. Does that sound likely?

    • profile image

      how can anyone hate 

      2 years ago

      a caterpillar? as a comment above. There are species bigger and stronger than us, how you would you feel if they hated you because of who you are or looked like? evolve.

    • lrdl3535 profile image

      Richard Lindsay 

      2 years ago from California

      I have problems with Hornworms every summer. They love tomato plants and will eat them really quickly. Great post

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