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.

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. 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).

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.

Please visit my SATURNIIDAE WEBSITE to see images of twenty-nine different silkmoth caterpillars found in the continental United States and Canada. The site also provides links to images of caterpillars from around the world.

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.

Ceratocampinae Index

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.

Please visit my BUTTERFLY WEBSITE to see images of many different butterfly caterpillars found in eastern Canada and in northeastern United States.

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).

If this info has been helpful, please click on the flashing butterfly to express appreciation and to visit other related sites.

or go to Introduction to WORLD'S LARGEST SATURNIIDAE SITE and click on flashing butterfly there. 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:

ARCTIIDAE (TIGER MOTHS: WOOLLY BEAR CATERPILLARS)
EUROPEAN SATURNIIDAE
MEXICAN SATURNIIDAE
NORTH AMERICAN SATURNIIDAE
SATURNIIDAE OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND:rearing info.
BUTTERFLIES OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Have a nice day!

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