Types of Caterpillars with Helpful Identification Chart & Pictures

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Types of Caterpillars
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Caterpillars come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and types. Some types of caterpillars have soft smooth colorful bodies that can be green, black, orange, or white. Some of these caterpillars may have stripped bodies or have interesting camouflage markings. Other kinds of caterpillars have furry bodies, spiky bodies, or horns on their bodies or heads.

Caterpillars are larval creatures that turn into moths or beautiful butterflies after they metamorphose. Understanding how to identify types of caterpillar allows knowing what they will turn into. For example, one of the most striking types of caterpillar has black, yellow, and white stripes and this turns into the famous monarch butterfly.

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Another reason to know how to identify certain types of caterpillars is to know which ones are dangerous or poisonous. For instance, the hairs on some furry types of caterpillars can cause irritation when touched. So you need to be careful when touching any fuzzy caterpillars even if they look harmless. Some spiky types of caterpillars can also inject venom that can cause allergic reactions.

In this article, you will find out about many types of caterpillars and how to identify them properly.

Types of Caterpillars

Even though many types of caterpillars look different and have various characteristics, they all have one thing in common – they love to eat. For example, some types of caterpillars can increase their weight thousands of times in a few weeks.

Let’s look in more detail at these fascinating and interesting-looking creatures.

Hickory Horned Devil (Regal Moth) Caterpillar

Hickory Horned Caterpillar

The Hickory Horned Devil is a type of large horned caterpillar that turns to a big moth

The Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar (Citheronia regalis) has to top the list for the scariest-looking caterpillar. This green caterpillar has black-tipped orange prickly spikes at its head that look dangerous. However, despite its fierce horned appearance, this type of caterpillar is totally harmless.

Apart from being a scary caterpillar, the Hickory Horned Devil is also one of the largest caterpillars in the world. Fully grown, this horned caterpillar can grow up to 6” (15 cm). Its pale green body has small black spines sticking out of it and black markings at its head section. This enormous caterpillar is also identified by a red patch at the end of its body.

As their name suggests, this big green fat caterpillar feeds on hickory leaves as well as cotton, hazel leaves, and ash tree leaves.

The Hickory Horned Devil transforms into one of the biggest moths you can find.

Monarch Caterpillar

monarch caterpillar

The monarch caterpillar has black, white, and yellow stripes on its body

The monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) is quite easy to identify with its black, white, and yellow stripy appearance. Monarch caterpillars gorge on milkweed which makes them poisonous to other birds and insects.

Stripy monarch caterpillars grow to between 1” and 1.7” (2.5 – 4.5 cm) long. From its first stage, until is become a cocoon, this fascinating caterpillar will increase its weight by 2,000 times.

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Apart from its soft stripped body, the monarch caterpillar has 2 pairs of tentacles. The monarch caterpillar turns into the famous monarch butterfly.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

black swallowtail caterplillar

The black swallowtail caterpillar has green body with black stripes and yellow dots

Identifying the Black Swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) is not difficult due to the black stripes and yellow dots on its lime-green body.

Although this looks similar to the monarch caterpillar, it doesn’t have tentacles at the head of its body. However, just like the monarch, the Black Swallowtail caterpillar also munches on milkweed which offers it protection from predators.

This is a type of caterpillar commonly found in North America. Other names for it include the ‘American Swallowtail’ and the ‘Parsnip Swallowtail.’ In its larvae stage, the Black Swallowtail also feeds on parsley, which is why it is also called the ‘parsley caterpillar.

The smooth green body of this caterpillar from the Papilio genus doesn’t have any hairs or venomous spikes. So, you can safely handle this caterpillar if you want to keep it in captivity.

Cecropia Caterpillar

Hyalophora cecropia caterpillar

The Cecropia moth caterpillar is a type of large green caterpillar with yellow and blue nodules

Another type of very large caterpillar is the Cecropia moth caterpillar with its fat green body and scary appearance.

You can identify the Cecropia caterpillar by its long length and orange, yellow, and blue nodules (tubercles). Although not as large as the Horned Devil, this giant caterpillar can grow up to between 4” and 4.5” (10 – 11 cm). Its frightening look is due to the differently-colored tubercles. Each of these protrusions has tiny black spikes.

Despite their freakish appearance, these enormous caterpillars are harmless. They don’t bite or sting and won’t cause any problems handling them. They get to their huge size by feeding on tree and shrub leaves.

As you would expect from such a large caterpillar, the Cecropia caterpillar metamorphoses into a large moth. In fact, the Cecropia moth is the largest moth native to North America.

Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar

The Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar has gray-brown body and black spots

Another unusual-looking caterpillar is the Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor). The name for this brown-colored caterpillar comes from its resemblance to an elephant’s trunk.

The moth larvae are identified by their gray-brown coloring and black spots. The brown caterpillar has an oval head with eye-spots on it. This gives the caterpillar a frightening look to predators who will tend to leave them alone. Another identifying feature of the Elephant Hawk caterpillar is the horn at the end of the body.

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When fully grown, these caterpillars can measure up to 3” (7.5 cm).

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

spicebush swallowtail

The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar has markings that look like fake eyes on its head

The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio Troilus) is a type of caterpillar that looks like a tiny snake. It has a light green body with darker dots and yellow colors around its midsection. One of the more unusual features of this caterpillar is its fake eyes on its head.

Some types of this caterpillar have a yellow-green color rather than pale green. However, the distinctive markings that offer protection from predators are a common identifying feature. If the caterpillar feels threatened, it will rear up and emit a foul-smelling odor to ward off birds and other insects.

It may be difficult to spot this caterpillar as it is usually feeds at night and hides during the day.

When the larvae emerge from their pupae, they are a stunning example of black-colored butterflies.

Zebra Longwing Butterfly Caterpillar

Zebra longwing

The Zebra Longwing caterpillar is a type of spiky caterpillar

The Zebra Longwing caterpillar (Heliconius charithonia) is identified by its long black spikes protruding from its grayish-green body. As well as these long spikes, black dots along its body adds to its scary look.

This spiky caterpillar gorges on varieties of passionflower. Compounds in the passionflower plant turn into toxic compounds in the Zebra Longwing caterpillars. This makes them foul-tasting to any potential predators.

The name for these caterpillars comes from the beautiful butterflies that emerge from the pupae. The long jaggy-looking caterpillars transform into butterflies with black and white striped wings.

Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillar

Tobacco hornworm

The Tobacco Hornworm caterpillar is a type of large green caterpillar

The large green Tobacco Hornworm caterpillar (Manduca sexta) is harmless to humans but can eat their way through your tomato plants. Compared to some other types of caterpillars, this common caterpillar species can be a serious pest in your garden.

Although not as huge as the Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar, the Tobacco Hornworm is identified among the large types of caterpillars. Fully grown, the caterpillar can reach up to 4” (10 cm) in length. Its lime-green body has 7 faint white stripes on each side of its body.

This caterpillar specimen looks quite harmless apart from its orange hook at its tail end. However, even this horned end won’t do any harm if you touch it.

The Tobacco Hornworm caterpillar transforms into a ginormous moth called the ‘Hawk moth.’

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Funerary Dagger Moth Caterpillar

paddle caterpillar

The Funerary Dagger caterpillar is also called the paddle caterpillar due to its paddle-like hairs

The Funerary Dagger caterpillar (Acronicta funeralis) is a striking example of a rare black-gray caterpillar species. Vivid yellow markings develop on the back of this soft caterpillar as it matures.

One of the unusual features of this crawling larva bug is the strange paddle-like hairs that protrude from the sides of the caterpillar, giving it also the common name the ‘paddle caterpillar’.

Funerary Dagger moths feed on, among others, the leaves of birch, cottonwood, apple, oak, and hickory trees.

White Admiral Caterpillar

White Admiral

The White Admiral caterpillar is a horned caterpillar that looks like birds dropping

One way to identify the White Admiral caterpillar (Limenitis arthemis) is by its two horns protruding from its head. This is a type of caterpillar that camouflages itself by resembling birds’ droppings.

The jaggy-looking caterpillar has an olive-green and brown body with discolored white blotches. The brown look of these crawling larvae also acts as good camouflage on wood and trees.

You can usually find White Admiral caterpillars on aspen, birch, willow, and cherry trees.

Butterflies that emerge from the Limenitis arthemis species can be black and white, dark red, purple, or shades of blue. This type of butterfly is also known as the Red-Spotted Purple butterfly.

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar

Pipevine Swallowtail

The Pipevine Swallowtail has a dark-brown body and orange spikes

There are a number of types of caterpillars in the Swallowtail species, and the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus phileno) is a glossy brown variety.

The Pipevine Swallowtail has a dark-brown body and jaggy-looking orange spikes. This is definitely not a large variety of caterpillar. The fully-grown larvae only reach about 2” (5 cm) in length. As the larvae mature, they develop into a reddish type of caterpillar covered in tiny fine hairs.

Other interesting types of Swallowtail caterpillars include some of the following:

  • Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar that has a pale orange or light brown body with rows of blue dots. As with some other types of Swallowtails, this has fake eyes on its head.
  • Common Mormon caterpillar is a green caterpillar with a few brown or black-colored stripes across its back.
  • Citrus Swallowtail caterpillar is a large fat lime-green caterpillar that loves to feed on the leaves of citrus trees. This type of caterpillar is slightly hairy in its immature stage and gradually develops a smooth body as it matures.

Type of Furry or Fuzzy Caterpillars

Hairy types of caterpillars can be some of the most fascinating larvae around. Here are some of the interesting types of furry caterpillars.

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The Sycamore Tussock Caterpillars

Sycamore Tussock

The Sycamore Tussock caterpillar is a fuzzy caterpillar

The Sycamore Tussock caterpillar (Halysidota harrisii) is a light yellow furry caterpillar common to the Eastern United States and Mexico.

The whole body of this fuzzy caterpillar is covered in long fine yellow-shite hairs. Its striking fuzzy appearance is enhanced by a few long white bristles on the body. Near its head there are 2 pairs of long orange “hair pencils.”

Although the fine hairs are not poisonous, repeated handling of them can cause skin irritation and hives.

As their name suggests, these Sycamore Tussock caterpillars feed on the leaves of Sycamore trees. A large number of these caterpillars can also damage the health of a sycamore tree.

The Woollybear Caterpillar

Wooly Bear

The Woollybear Caterpillar is a furry type of caterpillar with black and orange hairs

One of the identifying features of the Woollybear caterpillar (Pyrrharcita isabella) is its furry black and orange appearance. This caterpillar species is also called the Isabella Tiger moth or Banded Wooly Bear.

This hairy-looking caterpillar may resemble a small bottle cleaner due to is short bristles. This black and orange fuzzy caterpillar grows to about 2” (5 cm) in length and is common in North America and Europe. This fuzzy caterpillar also survives well in cold climates.

In fact, one of the unique features of this caterpillar is its ability to survive the cold. Usually, during winter months caterpillars have to pupate to get through the winter. However, woollybears develop a chemical that acts as antifreeze in their bodies.

This caterpillar species rarely becomes a garden pest. Although they eat garden plants, they don’t consume so much as to cause damage.

Even though this caterpillar is called ‘woolly,’ it doesn’t have a soft touch to it. The bristles have a spiky feel and may cause some irritation if handled too much.

Not all Woollybear caterpillars are a black-orange color. There is also the Yellow Woollybear (Spilosoma virginica) which has a pale-yellow color. This transforms into the Virginia Tiger moth after metamorphosis.

Puss (Southern Flannel Moth) Caterpillar

southern flannel

The Southern Flannel caterpillar is a type of small furry caterpillar

The Southern Flannel (Megalopyge opercularis) is also called the Puss caterpillar and is a small type of fluffy hairy caterpillar.

One of the identifying features of this species is its long hairy beige-orange tail. Also, some types of this caterpillar have orange line running down each side.

Even though this looks like a soft fluffy caterpillar, it is not one you want to handle. Soft-looking pale orange hairs cover rows of spines that can give you a nasty sting. In some cases, an allergic reaction to the sting of this caterpillar could have serious consequences.

Some people say that the Puss caterpillar resembles a disheveled orange toupee.

American Dagger

American dagger

The American Dagger caterpillar has a distinct hairy look

The long thin spines on the American Dagger species of caterpillar (Acronicta americana) give it a distinct fuzzy look. The black markings on this white caterpillar also add to its striking fuzzy appearance. You will also notice long black pencil hairs poking out between the gray-white spines.

Some types of these caterpillars also have a yellowish color. Due to the shaggy nature of the hairs, it can be difficult to see the black head underneath its yellow “mane.” You have to handle this caterpillar with care as the short yellow hairs are mildly toxic.

Fluffy American Dagger caterpillars love to gorge on oak, elm, willow, hickory, and birch leaves.

European Gypsy Caterpillar

European Gypsy Moth

The European Gypsy caterpillar is a hairy type of caterpillar with red and blue dots

The European Gypsy caterpillar (Lymantria dispar dispar) is native to Europe, Asia, and most of the States in the US including California. The fully-grown hairy caterpillar can grow up to 2” (5 cm) in length, thus making it a smaller type of caterpillar than some of the huge varieties.

This long thin fuzzy caterpillar has a whitish appearance with what looks like red and blue LED lamps on its back. These spots are what help identify this caterpillar from other species. Long thin hairs protrude from its sides, head, and tail end. There are also clumps of shorter black hairs running down its back.

Because of the incredible damage that these furry bugs can do, the European Gypsy caterpillar is considered a pest. You should also avoid handling the spiky creature as the fuzzy hairs can cause skin irritation.

Silver-Spotted Tiger Caterpillar

Silver spotted Tiger

The Silver-Spotted Tiger caterpillar has black and orange furry appearance

One black and orange fuzzy type of caterpillar is the Silver-Spotted Tiger species (Lophocampa argentata). This mildly-toxic variety of caterpillar has a hairy appearance resembling the stripes of a tiger.

Usually, this type of caterpillar is found on fir trees on the West coast of North America including California, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona.

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