caterpillar with spikes

caterpillar with spikes

caterpillar with spikes

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caterpillar with spikes
caterpillar with spikes

What is a caterpillar?

A caterpillar is the larval stage of a moth or butterfly. It is the second part of their four-stage life cycle (egg, larva, pupa, adult). Caterpillars have long, worm-like bodies with six true legs. They can also have a variable number of stumpy false legs (called prolegs), which help them to move and cling to things.

 

Caterpillars can change dramatically from when they first hatch to when they’re ready to pupate. Some can increase their body mass 10,000-fold in just a few weeks – that’s like a baby growing to the size of a sperm whale! Many look very different as they grow, so we’ve described the larger stages of the caterpillar’s growth, when they’re often more obvious.

 

 

Which caterpillars am I likely to see?

Many of these caterpillars are most obvious when they’re fully grown and looking for a place to either pupate or settle down for the winter, though some are easily spotted on their favourite food plants.

Drinker moth

When & where: August-June. A variety of habitats including gardens, but especially damp grassland, marshes and boggy areas.

Description: Up to 7 cm long. Dark and covered with brown hairs and golden speckles. A row of white hairs runs down each side of the body.

 

Fox moth

 

When & where: June-April, most obvious in spring. Common habitats include heathland and coastal grassland.

Description: Up to 7 cm long. Hairy, with long dark hairs on the sides of the body and shorter orange hairs on top. Young caterpillars are dark with orange bands.

Garden tiger

When & where: August-June. A wide range of habitats including gardens.

Description: Up to 6 cm long. An extremely hairy caterpillar, known as the “woolly bear”. Mostly black and ginger, with longer white hairs.

 

Cinnabar

When & where: July-September. Found on ragwort in most grassy habitats.

Description: The caterpillars of this moth are distinctive, with black and yellow stripes – warning predators that they taste terrible. They’re easily spotted feeding on ragwort.

 

Elephant hawk-moth

When & where: June-September.A variety of habitats, including gardens. Often where rosebay willowherb is found.

Description: Up to 8.5 cm long. A chunky green or brown caterpillar, with several eyespots at the front end and a spiky ‘tail’ at the rear.

Privet hawk-moth caterpillar

When & where: July to September. Widespread in southern England and Wales. Found in a variety of habitats, including gardens.

Description: Up to 8.5cm long. Green and chunky, with purple and white stripes on the body and a black and yellow horn on the rear.

 

Puss moth caterpillar

When & where: June to September. Widespread in a variety of habitats, including parks, gardens and wetlands.

Description: A plump, green caterpillar with a dark, white-edged ‘saddle’. The head is surrounded by a pink patch, with false eyes making it look like a giant face. There are two thin tails.

caterpillar with spikes
caterpillar with spikes

Mullein moth

When & where: April-July. A range of open habitats, including gardens. Feeds on mulleins and buddleia.

Description: Distinctive whitish caterpillars, with horizontal yellow splodges across the body and large black spots.

 

Yellow-tail

When & where: August-June. Scrubby habitats including hedgerows, woodland and gardens.

Description: Black with long, greyish-white hairs. On top it has a pair of red lines, with a row of white blotches either side of them. A red line runs along each side. The hairs can be an irritant.

Brown-tail

When & where: August-May. Scrubby habitats, including coastal scrub.

Description: Black with long brown hairs, red spots on top and a line of white marks along each side. Found in conspicuous communal webs on food plants. The hairs cause skin irritation.

 

Peacock

When & where: May-July. Common in a range of habitats where common nettle is present.

Description: Up to 4.5 cm. Black with black spines and small white dots. Found in communal webs on common nettles.

Vapourer

When & where: May-September. Commonly found in a variety of habitats including woodland, parks and gardens.

Description: A funky-looking grey and black caterpillar, with large tufts of hair, including a mohawk of yellow tufts on the back. Large caterpillars can often be spotted in late summer on a range of shrubs and trees.

caterpillar with spikes
caterpillar with spikes

 

Pale Tussock

When & where: June-October. Found on a wide variety of deciduous trees and other plants, including bramble.

Description: A striking bright green caterpillar, with black bands between its body segments, yellow/whitish hairs, a row of yellow tufts on top and a red tuft at the rear.

 

Not a caterpillar!

 

Sawfly larvae

Sawflies are a group of flies, whose larvae look very similar to caterpillars. The larvae are usually 1-4 cm long, but come in an impressive variety of colours. One way to spot a sawfly larva is to count the legs – they also have six true legs, but usually have six or more pairs of the stumpy ‘prologs’, whereas caterpillars have five or fewer.

Giant Silkworm Caterpillars (Family Saturniidae)

We have many species of silkworm caterpillars in Kentucky, but only two members of this group possess poisonous spines. These are large leaf feeding caterpillars with numerous spines over the body. Some moths in this family represent some of the most colorful and showiest moths in the commonwealth.

Buck Moth (Hemileuca maia)

The mature two-inch caterpillar is brown to purplish black with numerous yellow spots. The body is clothed with branched black spines that may have red or black tips. These can be quite common on oak or willow trees from spring to mid-summer. They are commonly encountered when mature larvae wander off the trees where they fed in search of places to pupate. There is a single generation a year.

 

caterpillar with spikes
caterpillar with spikes

Black caterpillars

Black caterpillars are insects that come in all shapes and sizes. All species of caterpillars belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera. After hatching from an egg, caterpillars gorge on a diet of plant and tree leaves. Many types of black caterpillars are interesting to look at and some look quite scary. Some species of caterpillars are black and fuzzy with hair-like spines. Other common black caterpillars have vibrant orange or yellow markings.

 

 

Even though some black caterpillars may look unsightly and unappealing, they turn into beautiful butterflies or moths. For example, the Monarch caterpillar is black with white and yellow tiger-like stripes. After the pupal stage, this caterpillar turns into the stunning Monarch butterfly.

Most silky black caterpillars are harmless and don’t sting, even though they may look menacing. Many of the big black fuzzy caterpillar species have spines and setae (fine bristles) that can be irritating. Although these black worms look hairy and fluffy, they can have spines that give a nasty sting.

green caterpillar with black spikes

Green caterpillars are some of the most commonly recognizable crawling insects in the wild. All types of caterpillars, including green ones, gorge on a diet of plant and tree leaves. Some of the largest and fattest insects in the Lepidoptera order are green caterpillars. Green caterpillars are identified by their size, specific markings, spines or spikes, and plant food they feed on.

 

Caterpillars are larvae before they turn into moths or butterflies. Most species of green caterpillars have smooth bodies and are completely harmless. Although green caterpillars aren’t poisonous, some have spikes or spines that can give you a nasty sting. In fact, one green caterpillar species even spits acid! So, it is always better to identify the caterpillar species before picking one up.

 

Green Caterpillar Identification

When trying to identify types of caterpillars, it’s good to remember that they go through different stages of growth. Sometimes, baby larvae of green caterpillars can look different from mature caterpillars.

 

One of the larger green caterpillar species is the Emperor moth caterpillar (Saturnia pavonia). This caterpillar is from the Saturniidae family of insects.

As immature larvae, this caterpillar species is black and orange. In its later stages, it turns green. You can identify this caterpillar by its black rings around the segments that feature orange and yellow spots. Looking up closely, you will notice tufts of tiny black hairs.

This is not a poisonous or stinging type of caterpillar. But, the spines are stiff and sharp and may cause some skin irritation.

Identifying features

A large plump green caterpillar with rows of yellow dots wrapping around each segment.

caterpillar with spikes
caterpillar with spikes

 

Yellow caterpillars

Yellow caterpillars are larvae that turn to stunning moths or butterflies. Some types of yellow caterpillars are fuzzy-looking and others have smooth segmented bodies typical of many species of caterpillars. Sometimes, yellow fuzzy caterpillars can be poisonous. Although they are not toxic enough to kill you, touching them can cause skin irritation.

 

All types of yellow caterpillars, as with all caterpillar species, belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera. They generally look like fat slugs or worms, although some caterpillars have exotic spiky bodies. Caterpillars have a huge appetite and they eat through a lot of vegetation before they enter the pupal stage. After that, the insects reach their final stage and emerge as moths or butterflies.

When looking at pictures to identify caterpillars, it is good to remember that caterpillars go through 4 or 5 growth stages. So, an immature caterpillar may look completely different from one before it becomes a pupa.

Because caterpillars can’t defend themselves, they have various defense mechanisms to protect themselves from predators. Bright yellow and black caterpillars can appear unappetizing to other animals. Spiny bristles on some yellow caterpillars have venom that can cause irritation. Green caterpillars use camouflage to hide from birds and other animals.

In this article, you will learn about the most common types of yellow caterpillars. Along with pictures of caterpillars, descriptions and their scientific name will help identify species of yellow caterpillars.

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Yellow Caterpillar Identification

It is easy to identify species of yellow caterpillars due to their yellowish coloring. Some fuzzy caterpillars are yellow due to the color of their spiny hairs (called setae). Other yellow caterpillars have yellow and black markings making them look like types of striped caterpillars.

Interestingly, from all the different species of caterpillars, most yellow caterpillars have spikes or hairs making them look furry. You may also notice that some fuzzy yellow caterpillars have large horns at either end of their bodies. It’s good to remember, that most hairy yellow caterpillars can sting because of their urticating hairs.

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