Furry Caterpillar Types and Identification Guide

Updated on November 27, 2017
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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

Identify Fuzzy Caterpillars With This Quick and Easy Guide

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

During the warm months you will sometimes find a caterpillar crawling on the ground or hanging out on a tree or bush. This guide will help you identify the furry caterpillars that reside in North America.

Woolly Bear (Isabella Pyrrharctia)

This furry little guy is one of the most common furry caterpillars and the easiest to find. They are red in the middle and brown on the ends. Farmers used to think the amount of brown on the caterpillar predicted the length of the coming winter. These caterpillars sometimes venture out of the bushes to make a cocoons, 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 a caterpillar, which makes them vulnerable to getting squashed or hurt.

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

Yellow Woolly Bear (Isabella virginica)

The Yellow Wooly Bear is the most common in North America. These furry caterpillars eat all kinds of plants and weeds. That means that they can be found almost anywhere. The name “Yellow Wooly Bear” is a little misleading, because they can be any color from almost white to dark orange.

Raising a Yellow Woolly Bear 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 wooly bear as a 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 Wooly Bear, but you can tell them apart because these caterpillars have black spots all along the sides of the body, and they're usually a darker orange-red than the Yellow Wooly 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. 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, 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-brown caterpillar with red "hair pencils" on the ends of its body. 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 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, where you might find them crawling around your porch or garage. The moth these little black and white become has beautiful wings with brown, cream, and yellow spots.

Raising a Hickory Tussock Caterpillar

  • You can raise the caterpillars into adults 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 caterpillars, 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.

Below is the Giant Leopard as a moth.

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

Io Caterpillar (Automeris io)

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

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 remember not to pick up the caterpillar with your hands!

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)

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

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

Milkweed Tiger Caterpillar
Milkweed Tiger Caterpillar

Southern Flannel (Megalopyge opercularis)

Watch out for this one! The Southern Flannel caterpillar, also called the "The Puss" caterpillar, 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

Did you Find a Furry Caterpillar? Leave a Note!

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    • profile image

      Victoria McNerlin 5 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 5 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Karl from n.central KY 7 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 8 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 2 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