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Identification of a caterpillar

Identification of a caterpillar


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My daughter has become one with nature somehow and came across an odd looking caterpillar. The odds of finding one never found before is great, however I'm unable to find what kind it is. It's head is bright red.

From Eastern North Carolina, USA.

Would anyone be able to point me in the right direction? Thanks!!!


This is a tussock moth caterpillar in the Lymantriidae family.

The image is not clear enough for a definitive ID, but it appears you have some species in the genus Orgyia.

Likely, this is a white-marked tussock moth caterpillar (Orgyia leucostigma).

From Auburn University:

The full-grown larva (Photo 2) is around 35 mm long. The head and shield on the segment behind the head are red. There are two long black pencils of hairs on the first segment of the thorax that project forward. A single black hair “pencil” arises from the eighth abdominal segment and projects upward and rearward. The back is mostly black and the sides yellow, cream, or grayish. There is an erect brushlike tuft of white or yellowish hairs on each of the first four abdominal segments, and a conspicuous red dot on segments six and seven.

Range: Entire eastern U.S. and west to Minnesota and Texas. [source].


Caterpillars noted in soybean

After visiting several ISU Research and Demonstration Farms this week, our summer crew started seeing caterpillars in soybean plots. Many species are possible at once, but rarely do they cause economic injury in Iowa. Defoliation must exceed 20% after bloom to justify a rescue foliar treatment.

Although some of you have been seeing thistle caterpillars in western Iowa, we weren’t finding them in our research plots. But today, Ashley Dean noted adults flying around this week and speculated the second generation is likely happening now. Expect to see eggs/small larvae in soybean fields soon. Thistle caterpillars are distinct from other species found in soybean. The body color ranges from creamy white to gray-brown, often with a yellow stripe running down the length of the body. The body is covered with numerous branching spines. Mature caterpillars are 1 ½ - 1 ¾ inches long (see short video). Read more about thistle caterpillar identification and management here.


Thistle caterpillar, note the spines.

In addition, my crew noted green cloverworm in soybean in northern Iowa. Caterpillars are pale green and slender. A faint white line may be apparent along the sides of the body. They have three pairs of prolegs, which can help distinguish from other green caterpillars common in soybean. They tend to wiggle when handled, as shown in this short video. It is common to see green cloverworm in vegetative soybean, but populations tend to peak later in the season.


Green cloverworm. Photo by Ashley Dean, Iowa State University.


Green cloverworm. Photo by Adam Sisson, Iowa State University.


Collections can be made by the teacher alone or can include the students. The best time of year for collection of caterpillars and plants will vary depending on your location. Caterpillars and plants will be available nearly year-round in warmer climates, whereas collections are best done in late spring through early fall in cooler or more northern climates. To determine the best time of year for this activity in your area, to find local contacts, and for a wealth of other information on Lepidoptera, visit the webpages of the Lepidopterists' Society (http://www.lepsoc.org) or the North American Butterfly Association (http://www.naba.org/chapters.html) and look for a local club or chapter. In addition, caterpillar or butterfly field guides, both print and online, provide information on local caterpillar abundances, seasonality, and host-plant identification (recommended guides are listed below).

Caterpillars can generally be located by walking around a park or neighborhood and carefully searching the leaves of trees and plants. CAUTION: Some caterpillars have hairs or spines that can deliver a painful sting! The vast majority of caterpillars are harmless, but be sure to check your field guide before touching any hairy or brightly colored larvae, and make sure you can identify irritant plants such as poison ivy or poison oak to avoid contact. At some times of year, certain species are especially abundant and can be easily found and collected. For example, fall webworms (Hyphantria cunea) are readily found in late summer in the eastern United States. (If caterpillars cannot be procured from the field, it is possible to conduct a modified version of this exercise using commercially available larvae. See note at the end.)


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What to Do If You Have an Infestation

Homeowners have a few options to control defoliation of trees due to caterpillars. The first option is to do nothing. Healthy deciduous trees usually survive defoliation and grow back a second set of leaves.

Manual control on individual trees includes hand removal of egg masses, inhabited tents, and pupa, and installation of sticky tree wraps on trunks to capture caterpillars as they move up and down trees. Do not leave egg masses on the ground drop them in a container of detergent. Do not attempt to burn tents while they are on trees. This is hazardous to the health of the tree.

Various insecticides for tent caterpillars and gypsy moths are available at garden centers. Insecticides are divided into two general groups: microbial/biological and chemical. Microbial and biological pesticides contain living organisms that must be consumed (eaten) by the pest. They are most effective on small, young caterpillars. As they mature, caterpillars become more resistant to microbial pesticides. Chemical insecticides are contact poisons. These chemicals can have a potential impact on a variety of beneficial insects (such as honeybees), so they should be used wisely.

Spraying trees with insecticides is an option, too. Tent caterpillars are native and a natural part of our ecosystem and gypsy moths have "naturalized" in our forest communities. These caterpillars will always be around, sometimes in small, unnoticeable numbers. If dense concentrations of tent or gypsy moth caterpillars cause a decline in the trees' health or threaten a garden or farm, spraying might be the best course.

However, using insecticides do have some drawbacks. It is not effective against pupae or eggs and is less effective once caterpillars reach 1 inch long. Nesting birds, beneficial insects, and other animals could be endangered by the use of chemical insecticides.


Biology chapter 1

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).


Results

Caterpillars varied dramatically in their use of defensive regurgitation:some species regurgitated after only a single pinch, whereas others could not be induced to regurgitate regardless of how many times simulated attack occurred (Fig. 1). On average,caterpillars regurgitated after 5.5 pinches (±3.3 s.d.), and this value ranged from 1 to 10 pinches. Of the 33 species examined, 27.3% (9) were classified as primary-regurgitators (1-2 pinches), 30.3% (10) as secondary-regurgitators (3-6 pinches) and 42.4% (14) as non-regurgitators(8-10 pinches).

Regurgitation defensive strategy clearly differed among the three types of caterpillars. Those in which the initial defense response was regurgitation(primary-regurgitators) behaved very differently than secondary-regurgitators,as measured by both the number of pinches required to elicit the response and the dynamics of the response itself. The initial defensive response of primary-regurgitators was regurgitation directed at the offending forceps,followed by recovery of regurgitant. Regurgitant recovery is expected from caterpillars that regurgitate frequently because of the costs associated with losing gut content nutrients expelled with regurgitant. Primary-regurgitators controlled how regurgitant was discharged and were often noted to produce regurgitant droplets of varying size in response to weaker or stronger pinches. Neither of these behaviors was noted in secondary-regurgitators, in which regurgitation was used secondarily after primary defenses such as flailing, biting or escape attempts failed to deter the simulated predator. Secondary-regurgitators did not produce a distinct droplet, but oozed regurgitant in a non-directed fashion that often resulted in as much regurgitant on the cuticle and substrate as on the forceps. Consistent with a lack of reliance on regurgitation as the primary defensive response, these caterpillars also failed to re-imbibe regurgitant after attack.

The occasional production of regurgitant by non-regurgitators seemed to be more a stress response than an antipredator response. Although not quantified,regurgitant volume appeared to be much less in these animals than in primary-or secondary-regurgitators, and non-regurgitator responses that resulted in regurgitation were often due more to exhaustion than defense. Therefore, it was clear that regurgitation was a primary or secondary defensive tactic in primary- and secondary-regurgitators, but not used as a defense in non-regurgitators. Primary-regurgitators responded by the second or third pinch, secondary-regurgitators responded after four to six pinches, and non-regurgitators required at least eight pinches to elicit regurgitation or did not regurgitate at all (Fig. 2).

A multivariate analysis revealed well-defined differences among proportions of the three major gut structures in primary-, secondary- and non-regurgitating species (Fig. 3A-C MANOVA: Wilk's Lambda N=33, approximate F4,58=19.5653, P<0.0001). These differences are localized in the crop and midgut among the different types of regurgitators (Fig. 3A-Cunivariate analysis of variance (ANOVA), N=33: crops, F2,30=62.0312, r 2 =0.80, P<0.0001 midguts, F2,30=18.7012, r 2 =0.55, P<0.0001 hindguts, F2,30=0.6922, r 2 =0.04, P=0.51). Propensity to regurgitate significantly predicted crop proportions, with the crops of primary-regurgitators [mean ± standard error (s.e.m).=0.34±0.02] consisting of a greater proportion of the total gut than crops of secondary-regurgitators (mean ±s.e.m.=0.21±0.02), which in turn were greater than those of non-regurgitators (mean ± s.e.m.=0.09±0.01 Fig. 3A, Tukey-Kramer HSD test:primary-secondary, P<0.0001 primary-non, P<0.0001secondary-non, P<0.0001 global mean ± s.e.m.:0.20±0.02).

Midgut proportions were smaller in primary-regurgitators (mean ±s.e.m.=0.50±0.03) than in secondary-(mean ±s.e.m.=0.65±0.02) or non-regurgitators (mean ±s.e.m.=0.73±0.03 Fig. 3B, Tukey-Kramer HSD test: primary-secondary: P<0.001primary-non: P<0.0001 global mean ± s.e.m.:0.64±0.02), and showed a similar, but non-significant trend between secondary- and non-regurgitators (Fig. 3B, Tukey-Kramer HSD test, P=0.08), indicating that digestive capacity may be constrained in regurgitating caterpillars.

Numbers of pinches required to elicit regurgitation in the caterpillars of 33 species of moths and butterflies. Those that deploy regurgitation as their primary defense (primary-regurgitators) are shown in white, as their secondary defense (secondary-regurgitators) in black, and those that do not use regurgitation as a defense (non-regurgitators) are in gray.

Numbers of pinches required to elicit regurgitation in the caterpillars of 33 species of moths and butterflies. Those that deploy regurgitation as their primary defense (primary-regurgitators) are shown in white, as their secondary defense (secondary-regurgitators) in black, and those that do not use regurgitation as a defense (non-regurgitators) are in gray.

Crop, midgut and hindgut proportions of total gut length in regurgitating caterpillars (N=33). Prim., primary-regurgitators (N=9)Sec., secondary-regurgitators (N=10) Non., non-regurgitators(N=14). Box plots show medians, 25th and 75th percentiles as well as outlying data points. (A) Crop proportions vary significantly with regurgitation behavior. Broken line indicates global mean of square root (crop proportions). (B) Midgut proportions vary significantly with regurgitation behavior. Broken line indicates global mean of untransformed midgut proportions. (C) Hindgut proportions were similar regardless of regurgitation behavior. Broken line indicates global mean of square root (hindgut proportions).

Crop, midgut and hindgut proportions of total gut length in regurgitating caterpillars (N=33). Prim., primary-regurgitators (N=9)Sec., secondary-regurgitators (N=10) Non., non-regurgitators(N=14). Box plots show medians, 25th and 75th percentiles as well as outlying data points. (A) Crop proportions vary significantly with regurgitation behavior. Broken line indicates global mean of square root (crop proportions). (B) Midgut proportions vary significantly with regurgitation behavior. Broken line indicates global mean of untransformed midgut proportions. (C) Hindgut proportions were similar regardless of regurgitation behavior. Broken line indicates global mean of square root (hindgut proportions).


Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History

This lavishly illustrated guide will enable you to identify the caterpillars of nearly 700 butterflies and moths found east of the Mississippi. The more than 1,200 color photographs and two dozen line drawings include numerous exceptionally striking images. The giant silk moths, tiger moths, and many other species covered include forest pests, common garden guests, economically important species, and of course, the Mescal Worm and Mexican Jumping Bean caterpillars. Full-page species accounts cover almost 400 species, with up to six images per species including an image of the adult plus succinct text with information on distribution, seasonal activity, foodplants, and life history. These accounts are generously complemented with additional images of earlier instars, closely related species, noteworthy behaviors, and other intriguing aspects of caterpillar biology.


Many caterpillars are illustrated here for the first time. Dozens of new foodplant records are presented and erroneous records are corrected. The book provides considerable information on the distribution, biology, and taxonomy of caterpillars beyond that available in other popular works on Eastern butterflies and moths. The introductory chapter covers caterpillar structure, life cycles, rearing, natural enemies, photography, and conservation. The section titled “Caterpillar Projects” will be of special interest to educators.


Given the dearth of accessible guides on the identification and natural history of caterpillars, Caterpillars of Eastern North America is a must for entomologists and museum curators, forest managers, conservation biologists and others who seek a compact, easy-to-use guide to the caterpillars of this vast region.


  • A compact guide to nearly 700 caterpillars east of the Mississippi, from forest pests to garden guests and economically important species
  • 1,200 color photos and 24 line drawings enable easy identification
  • Full-page species accounts with image of adult insect for almost 400 species, plus succinct text on distribution and other vital information
  • Many caterpillars illustrated here for the first time
  • Current information on distribution, biology, and taxonomy not found in other popular works
  • A section geared toward educators, “Caterpillar Projects”
  • An indispensable resource for all who seek an easy-to-use guide to the caterpillars of this vast region

"A lusciously photographed book generally regarded as the most comprehensive field guide ever to caterpillars, as opposed to their better-documented adult forms—moths and butterflies. . . . In the book, the fruit of a decade's research, Dr. Wagner . . . argues passionately that creeping things can be every bit as mesmerizing and transporting as those that flit and dart in the air."—Andy Newman, New York Times

"This is a wonderful field guide for those interested in studying the fascinating world of caterpillars in the backyard, parks, woods and fields around us."—Robert E. Hoopes, Wildlife Activist

"David Wagner has produced a user-friendly field guide that goes well beyond anything else available."The Quarterly Review of Biology

"As a teacher of the university courses in insect biology and classification, I will use this book heavily yet it is attractive and simply written enough to be much more widely appealing for children, teachers, and indeed anyone with interest in naturally history. David Wagner is to be congratulated for communicating his knowledge of the Lepidoptera so clearly and appealingly to the rest of us."—J.B. Whitfield, Annals of the Entomological Society of America

"In general, the images of caterpillars and adults in this book are superb, the layout is attractive and easy to use, and the small-size format allows it to slip easily into a backpack for use in the field. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Lepidoptera, but it should also find a place on the bookshelf of anyone interested in natural history, plant-insect interactions, or management of Lepidoptera pests (macros, anyway). It also will be very handy for anyone with inquisitive children (of any age) that pose that frequently asked question—What will it turn into?"—John W. Brown, Proceeds of the Entomological Society of Washington

"This is a fine, easy-to-use book that is sure to be in the hands of everyone interested in exploring their own gardens or nearby vacant lots, written to be understood by middle-school students as well as professionals. Very highly recommended!"Biology Digest

"This book adds to our understanding of caterpillars by providing a means to identify common caterpillars via excellent photos of early stages that are associated with photos of adults, and through snippets of natural history text for each species. This alone will generate enthusiasm for caterpillars among professional biologists and general readers interested in lepidoptera."—Philip J. DeVries, Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Orleans, author of The Butterflies of Costa Rica and Their Natural History, Volumes I and II

"This book is an important contribution to the existing knowledge on the lepidoptera of North America, one that should spawn the gathering of new information. It fills a glaring gap in the popular literature on the continent's fauna."—Steven M. Roble, Staff Zoologist, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage

Related Books


Biology & Life Cycle

Gypsy moth undergoes four developmental life stages these are the egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult. Gypsy moth females lay between 500 to 1,000 eggs in sheltered areas such as underneath the bark of trees. The eggs are covered with a dense mass of tan or buff-colored hairs. The egg mass is approximately 1.5 inches long and 0.75 inches wide. The eggs are the overwintering stage of the insect. Eggs are attached to trees, houses, or any outdoor objects. The eggs hatch in spring (April) into caterpillars.

Caterpillar (Larval Stage)

Gypsy moth caterpillars are easy to identify, because they possess characteristics not found on other leaf-feeding caterpillars. They have five pairs of blue dots followed by six pairs of red dots lining the back. In addition, they are dark-colored and covered with hairs. Young caterpillars primarily feed during the day whereas the older caterpillars feed at night. When present in large numbers, the older caterpillars feed day and night. Young caterpillars spread to new locations by crawling to the tops of trees, where they spin a silken thread and are caught on wind currents. Older caterpillars are approximately 1.5 to 2.0 inches long. Gypsy moth caterpillars do not produce a web, which distinguishes it from web-making caterpillars such as the Eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum and the fall webworm, Hyphantria cunea. The Gypsy moth larval stage lasts approximately seven weeks.

Female Moth

In early summer (June to early July), Gypsy moth caterpillars enter a pupal or transitional stage. The pupae are dark brown, shell-like cases approximately two inches long and covered with hairs. They are primarily located in sheltered areas such as tree bark crevices or leaf litter. Adult Gypsy moths emerge from the pupae in 10 to 14 days. They are present from July into August. Females have white to cream-colored wings, a tan body, and a two-inch wingspan. Female Gypsy moths cannot fly. Males, which are smaller than females, with a 1.5-inch wingspan, are dark-brown and have feathery antennae. Both the adult female and male can be identified by the inverted V-shape that points to a dot on the wings.

Gypsy moth has only one generation per year. Gypsy moth populations will go through cycles in which the populations will increase for several years then decline, and then increase again. Area-wide outbreaks can occur for up to ten years, but generally population densities in localized areas remain high for two to three years.

Adapted from Entomology Fact Sheet, NHE-153 written by Raymond A. Cloyd and Philip L. Nixon, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, in cooperation with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

This site is for use by municipal forestry departments, park districts, the green industry and other concerned agencies to report gypsy moth findings in NortheasternIllinois. The site will be monitored by University of Illinois Extension staff and the Illinois Department of Agriculture to assist in the effort to suppress the spread of gypsy moth.


Identification of a caterpillar - Biology

Flesh-eating caterpillars lurk in Hawaii’s rainforests

Islands can produce some of the strangest evolutionary novelties on the planet. Island-living elephants shrink to tiny sizes, while tortoises grow gigantic. The fate of species on islands is its own specialized study because the only way species can arrive on an island is over the water. Scientists, in the study of island biogeography, focus on how plants, animals, and microbiota end up on the islands where they occur.

What happens after they arrive is apparently anybody’s guess. Islands are unusual because they can lack the stiff competition of mainland ecosystems. Common factors in our daily lives, like ants, can be completely lacking. Because so many pieces of an ecological puzzle are missing on an island, niches remain open for the organisms that do arrive and get a foothold. Animals and plants end up doing things on islands that their kindred are not known to do anywhere else in the world. A recently discovered example is a caterpillar that has broken all the rules of caterpillardom. It eats meat. It hunts its prey. It uses its silk as a weapon. It deliberately camouflages itself with non-caterpillar components. And it’s a brutal killer.

Like a wolf that dives for clams

This particular capterpillar and its four just-discovered relatives reside on one of the most isolated island chains in the world, the Hawaiian archipelago. These islands are well known for evolutionary novelties, and these new species of the genus Hyposmocoma are no different. Well, actually, they’re very different. One scientist has said that discovering the behavior of these larval moths is like discovering a wolf species that dives for clams.

This caterpillar, a tiny, brutal, sneaky killer, creeps up on its prey, an unsuspecting snail resting on a leaf in the Hawaiian rainforest. The caterpillar itself is bound in silk, and it proceeds to spend almost a half hour anchoring the hapless snail to the leaf with more silk. The silk, made of gelatinous proteins, pins the snail by its shell as tightly as a spider wraps its threads around prey.

Once the caterpillar has immobilized its target, preventing the snail from escaping through a fall off of the leaf, the nascent moth emerges from its own silk casing. The snail retreats into its shell, and the caterpillar follows, beginning to feed on the trapped snail, starting with the head. It literally eats the snail alive.

This behavior is extraordinarily unusual for a caterpillar, the juvenile form of moths and butterflies. The vast majority of caterpillar species are vegetarian of the 150,000 known species, only 200 have been identified as flesh eaters and predators. These few do not use their silks to trap their food, and they don’t eat snails, which are mollusks, targeting instead soft-bodied insects.

Caterpillar divers and adaptive radiation

But the genus Hyposmocoma is known for its diversity. Some of its members dive underwater for food. The interesting thing about the snail-eating caterpillars is that they seem to have radiated through almost all of the Hawaiian islands. The first species was identified on Maui, but since its discovery, researchers have found species on most of the other islands. Evolutionary biologists are intrigued by the many novel aspects of this caterpillar’s life history because it is so unusual for this many unique factors—novel food source, novel hunting technique, novel eating technique—to have evolved in the same species.

Wearing the spoils of capture as camouflage

One other unique thing about this caterpillar’s approach to dinner is its use of decoration. Once the mollusk-eating caterpillar has spent the day dining on escargot, it will attach the snail’s empty shell to its silken casing, along with bits of lichen and other materials, in an apparent attempt to camouflage itself.


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