BUTTERFLY AND MOTH CATERPILLARS:
IDENTIFICATION GUIDE

by Bill Oehlke

Throughout the summer and early fall I often get requests to help identify butterfly and/or moth caterpillars.

I would be happy to try to assist with the identification of butterfly and moth caterpillars that you have found but request that you first check out the websites listed below to see if you can do your own caterpillar id.

There are thousands of butterfly and moth species not depicted. If you are going to send me an email oehlkew@islandtelecom.com, please provide the following:

1) Geographical location: state or province of caterpillar sighting,
2) an accurate description of larva, i.e., length, width, colouration, markings, scoli,
3) a description of caterpillar's activity when you found it, e.g., eating pin cherry leaves, crawling across my patio deck, etc.

This is a free service, but I would be pleased to accept a donation of $1.00 if I have correctly identified your caterpillar. I have been getting so many requests of late, that it is hard to keep up.

The donation is not required and I will not ask you for it in my reply, but if you would like to send one, here is my address:

Bill Oehlke
Box 476, 155 Peardon Road
Montague, Prince Edward Island
Canada C0A 1R0

U.S. banknotes are fine. I do have internet expenses.

You might also consider membership in either my World's Largest Saturniide Site Club
or my brand new Caterpillars Too!, a site dedicated to identification of North American Butterfly Caterpillars.

I specialize in the rearing of the large caterpillars of hawkmoths (Sphingidae), silkmoths (Saturniidae), regal moths (Ceratocampinae) and butterflies. Pictured below are some sample caterpillars of the different groups:

I have recently added a link and information about the woolly bear caterpillars as people often spot them in the fall when the larvae have left the foliage and are searching for a sheltered spot in which to hibernate, or in the spring once the warm weather breaks the winter's sleep. Woolly bears or Artiidae (TIGER MOTH) caterpillars are accessed at bottom of this page.

Sphingidae: Hawkmoths

Caterpillars of the Sphingidae family are often called hornworms due to the well-developed "horn" on the posterior end of the abdomin.

These hornworms climb down the tree trunk or shrub stem at maturity and seek a place to pupate either in a subterannean chamber, which they excavate, or on the surface amongst leaf litter.

Please visit my SPHINGIDAE WEBSITE to see images of thirteen different hawkmoth caterpillars (hornworms).

Probably the most common request I get for Spingidae larva identification, especially in the western and midwestern states is Hyles lineata or the white-lined sphinx.

Many people find this caterpillar, which is highly variable in patterning, in their gardens feeding on a great diversity of plants including willow weed (Epilobium), four o'clock (Mirabilis), evening primrose (Oenothera), tomato (Lycopersicon), purslane (Portulaca), and Fuschia.

Image courtesy of Scott Smith.

Saturniidae: Silkmoths

Caterpillars of the Saturniidae family are often large (three to four inches long with considerable girth). Many silkmoth larvae descend tree trunks in late summer or early fall to spin silken cocoons among the undergrowth or surface debris.

Not all of them have tubercles as well-developed as the cecropia larva, but most of these caterpillars have raised scoli along the back and sides.

Ceratocampinae:
Regal moths

Most larvae of this family have extensive thoracic scoli (horns near the head), especially pronounced in the early instars, and there is usually a well-developed anal horn on the eighth or ninth abdominal segment. In some genera, hairlike setae (not present here) cover the larvae.

Like the Sphingidae, these Ceratocampinae caterpillars also leave the host plant to pupate underground.

Butterflies

Butterfly caterpillars tend to be much smaller than those of the Sphingidae, Saturniidae or Regal moths.

Some of these caterpillars pupate while suspending themselves from host plant foliage while others find more protective pupation quarters for the winter months.

Butterfly pupae are frequently called chrysalids.

Without the protection of an earth covering or silken cocoon, many of these caterpillars seek out sheltered areas or emerge as butterflies that can hibernate in sheltered brush or wood piles or even migrate to warmer climates.

The Polygonia satyrus caterpillar, pictured above, spun a silk pad on a nettle stem and pupated in an inverted position. This species hibernates as an adult butterfly.

Arctiidae: Tiger Moths

Caterpillars of the Arctiidae family are often called woolly bears due to the dense coat of hairs (setae) adorning the body. They come in a variety of different and often striking colour patterns.

Wooly bears are often found in the fall when they are looking for a sheltered spot, (under a rock, fallen log, etc.) to hibernate as caterpillars.

Please visit my ARCTIIDAE WEBSITE to see images of six different Arctiidae caterpillars (woolly bears or tiger moth larvae).

Visit Introduction to WORLD'S LARGEST SATURNIIDAE SITE. This site features spectacular photography with the most extensive set of Saturniidae files found anywhere on the internet.

Visit other websites maintained by Bill Oehlke by clicking on my name immediately to the left.