Furry Caterpillar Types and Identification Guide

Updated on September 19, 2018
greenmind profile image

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

Furry Caterpillar Types and Identification Guide
Furry Caterpillar Types and Identification Guide

Caterpillars are the immature stage of butterflies and moths. Most furry caterpillars eat leaves (though a few eat clothes), and almost all of them will eventually become moths.

During the warm months, it's not uncommon to find caterpillars crawling on the ground or hanging out on trees or bushes. This guide will help you identify the furry caterpillars that reside in North America.

Banded Woolly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella)

This little guy is one of the most common furry caterpillars and the easiest to find. They have 13 segments and are rusty orange in the middle and black on the ends. These caterpillars sometimes venture out of the bushes to make cocoons (which include the stiff bristles from their bodies!), and you might spot them crossing the road when driving.

Raising a Woolly Bear Caterpillar

These caterpillars are not very easy to raise. They often overwinter as pupae, which makes them vulnerable to getting squashed or hurt.

Note: Take care when handling these caterpillars. While they may look soft, their "fur" is actually made of stiff bristles that can result in a hand full of little slivers (akin to those from fiberglass insulation) upon handling. While some people report no issues touching these cats and their cocoons, it's better to be safe than sorry!

Fun Fact

Farmers used to think the amount of orange on the caterpillar predicted the length of the coming winter. Legend has it that a wide band indicated a mild winter, whereas a narrow band predicted a harsh one.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar
Woolly Bear Caterpillar
Wooly Bear Moth
Wooly Bear Moth

Yellow Woolly Bear (Spilosoma virginica)

The yellow woolly bear is the most common caterpillar in North America. These furry little guys eat all kinds of plants and weeds, which means that they can be found almost anywhere. The name “yellow woolly bear” is a little misleading, however, because they can be any color from almost white to dark orange.

Raising a Yellow Woolybear Caterpillar

The good thing about these insects is that they're really easy to raise to an adult. They'll spin a cocoon among the leaves of their food plant or among leaves on the ground. The yellow woolly bear moth is very beautiful. It has pure white wings with tiny black spots, and orange-black spots along the sides of its furry, white body.

Yellow Woolly Bear
Yellow Woolly Bear | Source

Salt Marsh Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea)

This caterpillar looks a lot like the yellow woolly bear, but you can tell them apart because these caterpillars have black spots all along the sides of their bodies, and they're usually a darker orange-red than yellow woolly bears.

Raising a Salt Marsh Caterpillar

These caterpillars are really easy to raise to adults. They eat a lot of different leaves (but be sure you always give them leaves from the same plant you found them on!). If you give them the right leaves, they'll eat for a while and spin an orange cocoon. The adult moth that hatches out is really beautiful, with pale orange and white wings.

Note: Some people are sensitive to the fur of these caterpillars. If you handle them a lot, you may get an itchy rash. It's never serious, though, so don't worry too much.

Salt Marsh Caterpillar
Salt Marsh Caterpillar

Sycamore Tussock (Halysidota harrisii)

This furry caterpillar is most commonly found crawling up and down tree trunks. The Sycamore Tussock is a yellowish-white caterpillar with long "hair pencils" on the ends of their bodies—two pairs of white and two pairs of orange near the head, and one pair of white toward the rear. If you find one crawling on a tree trunk, it's probably looking for a place to make a cocoon.

Raising a Sycamore Tussock Caterpillar

If you put one of these caterpillars in a Tupperware bin with a folded paper towel, it will likely make a cocoon.

Sycamore Tussock Caterpillar
Sycamore Tussock Caterpillar
"Halysidota harrisii" by James Solomon
"Halysidota harrisii" by James Solomon | Source

American Dagger (Acronicta americana)

If you find a furry caterpillar that's white with skinny black horns (or hair pencils) on the ends, then you've found an American dagger caterpillar. They eat oak and maple, and when they're ready to spin a cocoon, they usually walk down the trunk of whatever tree or bush they are residing in.

Raising an American Dagger Caterpillar

You will most likely find this caterpillar on the trunk of a tree. You can keep this caterpillar and it will spin a cocoon. The moth is a pretty, grey creature with pale and dark markings.

American Dagger Caterpillar
American Dagger Caterpillar
"Acronicta americana" by Joseph Berger
"Acronicta americana" by Joseph Berger | Source

Hickory Tussock (Lophocampa caryae)

These caterpillars are very commonly found late in the summer, when you might find them crawling around your porch or garage. The moth these little black-and-white cats become has beautiful wings with brown, cream, and yellow spots.

Raising a Hickory Tussock Caterpillar

You can raise these caterpillars into moths without too much trouble.

Hickory Tussock Caterpillar
Hickory Tussock Caterpillar

Giant Leopard (Hypercompe scribonia)

Some caterpillars aren't actually "furry," like this one. What looks like thick black fur is actually a dense coat of sharp spines that can deal a painful poke if you squeeze the caterpillar too tightly. When disturbed, this species rolls into a ball and makes the sharp black spines protrude from its body.

Raising a Giant Leopard Caterpillar

Like the Wooly Bear, these caterpillars overwinter as pupae, so they're hard to raise into adults. It's a shame, because the adult Giant Leopard moth is one of the most beautiful moths in North America.

Giant Leopard Caterpillar
Giant Leopard Caterpillar
Giant Leopard Moth
Giant Leopard Moth

Io Caterpillar (Automeris io)

The Io caterpillar grows up to be a very beautiful moth, with huge eyespot markings on the hind wings that it flashes to scare away birds and other predators. If you find one, consider yourself lucky, but don't pick it up with bare hands!

Note: Be careful when looking for the Io caterpillar. This insect is poisonous! A prick from one of its spines feels like a bee sting. While being pricked is not life-threatening, it can really hurt.

Raising Io Caterpillars

You'll need a box of latex or non-latex gloves to raise these guys. Be sure never to touch them without gloves on (even their empty cocoons) and make sure to raise them in a contained area where they won't escape and "sting" anyone. Apart from that, raising these cats isn't very hard, and the moths they become are absolutely stunning.

Io Caterpillar
Io Caterpillar
"Automeris io" by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
"Automeris io" by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The Sycamore (Acronicta aceris)

This beautiful caterpillar is the only one in this guide from Europe. This creature is the beautiful larva of a plain gray moth. It's closely related to the dagger moths of North America.

Raising a Sycamore Caterpillar

If you happen to be in Europe and find one of these caterpillars, you should try to raise it to an adult. It gets its name from the kind of tree it eats, so you'll know right away what kind of leaves to give it.

The Sycamore Caterpillar
The Sycamore Caterpillar

Milkweed Tiger (Euchaetes egle)

Also known as the Milkweed Tussock Moth, this cool-looking caterpillar is one of the few larvae that feed exclusively on milkweed. The plant protects itself from most attackers by having poisonous, milky sap. Most insects can't digest this strong sap, but a few can, including this one and the world-famous monarch butterfly, which feeds on milkweed and nothing else.

This striking caterpillar lives in groups on milkweed plants and drops to the ground when it feels threatened. This caterpillar becomes a very plain, brown moth.

Raising Milkweed Tiger Caterpillars

As long as you provide a shelter with reasonably similar conditions to those found outdoors (e.g. a screen porch), these guys aren't too difficult to raise. Just give them plenty of milkweed to feast on and perhaps a bit of shredded paper to provide extra shelter for their cocoons.

Milkweed Tiger Caterpillar
Milkweed Tiger Caterpillar

Southern Flannel (Megalopyge opercularis)

Watch out for this one! The Southern Flannel caterpillar—also called the puss caterpillar or the asp—has one of the most painful stings of any insect in North America. It may look like Donald Trump's hair on a good day, but under those flowing brown locks are hidden rows of stinging spines.

They sometimes drop out of trees and may land on a person's arm or neck. If that happens, it's going to be a long day. The sting gets worse and worse over several hours before finally fading away. Allergic people may need to go to the emergency room.

Southern Flannel Caterpillar
Southern Flannel Caterpillar
"Megalopyge opercularis" by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
"Megalopyge opercularis" by Patrick Coin, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Didn't See Your Caterpillar Here?

If you didn't see your caterpillar in this guide, have a look at one of my other caterpillar identification articles here on Owlcation:

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

Black Caterpillar Identification: This guide will help you identify black and dark-colored caterpillars, including many common species.

Green Caterpillar Identification: Many caterpillars are green to blend in with the leaves they feed on. Here are several that you might encounter.

North American Caterpillar Identification: This is a guide to the most common caterpillars in North America.

Good luck finding your critter!

Questions & Answers

  • Do you have a photo of a yellow wooly bear moth caterpillar ?

    You can find one with a google search: Spilosoma virginica.

  • What is a white fluffy caterpillar called?

    It could be a yellow woolly bear caterpillar.

  • what type of caterpillar is furry, yellow, and has equidistant black spots down each side of its body?

    It sounds like a yellow woolly bear.

  • Are there poisonous caterpillars in Rhode Island?

    Yes, but not many. You will rarely find one, but saddlebacks can sometimes be found on apple trees there.

  • Where does the caterpillar southern flannel live?

    They occur throughout the eastern U.S. but are most common from Maryland to Florida and east to Texas.

© 2014 GreenMind Guides

Comments

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    • profile image

      Nicole 

      6 hours ago

      Are fuzzy catapillars poisonous?

    • profile image

      Meg 

      4 days ago

      I found a furry tan colored caterpillar with 4 long paintbrush-like antennas (2 on each side of head and som3 thinner ones on the rear end. A dark brown line on top of the spine. Can’t find a picture of it on any of the identifier sites. Anyone know???

    • profile image

      Theresa 

      9 days ago

      Very interesting and informative!

    • profile image

      Peaches 

      10 days ago

      I found a fuzzy black caterpillar, and it has yellowish orange fur along the bottom. I can't find what kind it is, so if somebody could let me know that'd be great.

    • profile image

      Lyn 

      12 days ago

      I was touring Tarbin Gardens and saw an unfamiliar fuzzy caterpillar. It was a darker shade of grey with a black head. It also had a spiked mane of black and white spikes. There were also a few spikes of black and white sticking out the back end. Can you identify?

      Thank you, Lyn

    • profile image

      Antman933 

      12 days ago

      Hello, I could use some help with identifying a possible moth. I have been seeing these black furry small what appears to be moths on my porch. Last week I power washed my porch and it was very odd to say the least when hit with water it almost seemed to have melted away ,just leaving a dirt stream in the drainage. So now a week or so later I have 5 more on the porch again. It might not be a moth at all however I have some experience with the IO caterpillar, which was very unpleasant so I'm not trying to get to close to whatever these things are. I have a few pictures I can/will post and could also go get some closer up ones as well. Sorry for how long this is but it's hard to explain. Any help would be great since I have 5 children 3 of which are 8 an under so it's concerning to me. Forgive me I'm new to the site so if someone can guide me to how I can post a picture that would be great . Ty everyone, I really appreciate your time.

    • profile image

      PippinOMG 

      13 days ago

      This guide helped me learn a lot about catipillers

    • profile image

      Liz 

      2 weeks ago

      I think your comment about Donald Trump's hair was rude. Any time you make fun of somebody's appearance it makes you look small.

    • profile image

      Sienna 

      3 weeks ago

      I found a orange and white caterpiller and it is fuzzy

    • profile image

      Julia 

      5 weeks ago

      I found an all yellow catipiller with no black whatsoever. I really want to know what kind of catipiller he or she is and have been searching all day. If you know what kind of catipiller it is, please let me know.

      -Julia

    • greenmind profile imageAUTHOR

      GreenMind Guides 

      6 weeks ago from USA

      Not poisonous! Probably a kind of tiger moth caterpillar. They won't hurt anyone and they make a pretty moth.

    • profile image

      Carolyn Fruge 

      6 weeks ago

      Found lots of white furry caterpillars around the outside of brick home? Is it piosoneous?

    • profile image

      Stacy E Doney 

      7 weeks ago

      I found a hairy black caterpillar with thin yellow bands and possibly nobs on its back. Not sure what it us. I'm in Northeastern Maryland.

    • profile image

      Anita Davison 

      7 weeks ago

      found a canary yellow caterpillar with black spikes on trunk of a white oak tree. What is it and what does it eat?

    • profile image

      Ron Hammel 

      7 weeks ago

      I have a small caterpillar it's white with a black strip down the middle of it's back. It is stripping the leaves on my heart nut trees. Do you think the trees are in danger of bring destroyed?

    • profile image

      Audrey 

      7 weeks ago

      I have an area of milkweed and butterfly bush dedicated to Monarchs. Do they have any predators in the egg stage? I am grateful for the identification of the "Southern Flannel" as I just saw one on my milkweed in Central PA while checking for Monarch eggs. Also some Giant Leopards feeding on the milkweed.

    • profile image

      Evelyn Cherie 

      2 months ago

      I have found at least 9 black furry catapillar ranging in 3” long in my living room on my couch and in my rug under the coffee table. I vacuum everyday but they still return. I’ve been stung twice. I can’t seem to get rid of them. All my furniture is new along with new carpet throughout. The only plant I have outside is juniper trees. I live in the desert where it’s dry and no grass or plants just the juniper tree. The doors stay shut. It’s a mystery of where their coming from. How can I get rid of them. Is there a stray I can spray inside my home that is safe for my animals and myself. I can’t enjoy myself in my living room without getting stung or finding a catapillar crawling up my leg or arm.

    • profile image

      Evelyn 

      2 months ago

      I have found at least 9 black furry catapillar ranging at 3” long in my living room. I vacuum everyday. I found them in the rug and on the couch. I’ve inspected the couch and like I said vacuum everyday but their still appearing in the living room. I’ve been stung twice. I just can’t seem to get rid of them and I don’t know where their coming from. What can I do?

    • profile image

      Pat 

      2 months ago

      I have small fuzzy black caterpillars in my sunflowers, echinacea, black-eyed susan plants, less than 1" in length. They're eating stems, some pretty think, snapping them off. I can't find the exact worm on the internet. Anyone have an idea. I'm in VA. So far I'm spraying with neem which seems to be helping but I wonder about treating the soil. Thank you for any input.

    • profile image

      Kayli 

      2 months ago

      I found a full white caterpillar what type of butterfly is it and can I safely touch it

    • profile image

      Lilly 

      3 months ago

      So I found a full orange caterpillar or worm and has white spots and is kinda fluffy what is it? Worm or Caterpillar?

    • profile image

      Jason Jeffers 

      4 months ago

      I believe I've found a Giant Leopard Caterpillar. I saved him from some ants. The article said they overwinter as a caterpillar, so are difficult to raise to a moth. What does overwinter mean? It's almost summer now.

      http://i136.photobucket.com/albums/q193/MorGothdoo...

    • greenmind profile imageAUTHOR

      GreenMind Guides 

      4 months ago from USA

      Yes send photo to identification@panamainsects.org

    • profile image

      Ssndy 

      4 months ago

      Caterpillar has n forget me nots. 98550 Olympic Peninsula black with light yellow/white side spots down the length 2” last BG red bald head. ID? Can we send photos?

    • profile image

      Alsa 

      4 months ago

      I still can't find out the caterpillar that I got!

    • profile image

      Christopher H 

      5 months ago

      Help, i found a small black fuzzy thing that looks like it has a beak, but no feathers, only fur. its scared the crap out of me and i'm really scared

      too scared to go outside. i don't want to die, and my body feel weird after seeing it, i think its from how scared i am.

    • profile image

      Renee Holberts 

      6 months ago

      I just found a large black (all, and just black) caterpillar in my yard.

    • profile image

      Douglas County 

      6 months ago

      I found an all white caterpillar with a brown head. I don't know what type it is. Please help!!

    • profile image

      Victoria McNerlin 

      12 months ago

      I found Two Furry yellow And Black Catipilars I Think Are american Daggers Outside my apartment door Near dried Up Leaves I believe Are Maple

    • profile image

      Ethelann Stanzione 

      12 months ago

      I found a furry yellow caterpillar on my peony leaf today.

    • profile image

      Karl from n.central KY 

      14 months ago

      I began planting milkweed 3 yrs ago for Monarchs. While watching for missing leaves last week I saw the wrong critter on a denuded plant.Your web site helped me identify the caterpillar as a milkweed tiger moth. Thank you ! karl

    • profile image

      terry fenner 

      15 months ago

      Coming into Bury St Edmunds we saw a large black furry catapillar measuring about 23 cm. Can anyone identify it please?

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      2 years ago from Brazil

      How interesting. We get our fair share of caterpillars here in Brazil. We have a small coconut plantation and I will say, any that come near my trees, get squashed or fed to the chickens.

      I can appreciate their beauty but.....

      I think that is a great idea to put the photos of the moth as well. It makes it come full circle.

      We have even seen wasps taking catepillars to put into their nests.

      One interesting caterpillar we have here looks just like bird poop. Not sure what moth (or butterfly) is responsible for it.

      Interesting hub.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, I've been at HP for a few years now, and this is the first hub I've seen about caterpillars...and a good one at that. This old science teacher thanks you.

    • profile image

      Sharon 

      3 years ago

      Found a Big black shiny one. Thought it was a severed cat paw. Certainly did not harm it.

    • profile image

      SHELLY 

      3 years ago

      I FOUND A FURRY BRIGHT LIGHT GREEN CATERPILLAR I AM IN ENGLAND. IT WAS FURRY LOOKING AND HAD A RATHER BRIGHT RED UPRIGHT TIP ON THE END. ITS HEAD WASN'T TOO PROMINENT AND I CANNOT FIND IT ON THE INTERNET ANYWHERE. I THINK IT MAY BE A MOTH LARVAE BUT IF ANYONE CAN HELP. GREAT! HAVE A PICTURE

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