How many times have you found a caterpillar and wondered what it was? You
find someone like me on the net and email them to find out how to take care of your
new friend. They reply, as I have many times, with more questions for you than you had for
them. There are thousands of species of butterflies and moths throughout the world, and no
two are alike. In advising you on the care of your caterpillar, any good butterfly hugger
will want to know exactly what you have. There is nothing like guessing the wrong species,
and telling someone to feed it the wrong plant. Your caterpillar will probably starve.
Try to give your advisor as much information as possible, this takes some
observation on your part. Most likely youll have to look at it very close, take some
notes, and observe its actions. Often the smallest piece of information will tell you what
you have. Here are just a few tips:
Where are you? What part of the country youre in makes a
lot of difference. Not all species fly all over the US and many times they can even be
different colors in different parts of the country. Tell your advisor what city and state
youre in, as well as if youre in the city or the country.
Where did you find your caterpillar? Was it on a plant or walking
on the sidewalk? If it was wandering, most likely, it was looking for a place to pupate
and feeding isnt necessary. If it was on a plant, chances are that this is its host
plant. This is one of the biggest clues to identifying it, because most caterpillars have
very specific diets, and only eat a few plants. Do your best to identify this plant.
Was it a single caterpillar, or did you did you find a group of them?
Some butterflies lay eggs singly, and others lay them in huge masses. Many caterpillars
are solitary, while others feed in large groups.
What does it look like? To tell someone its a large, black
caterpillar doesnt help. Big black fuzzy caterpillar is the same get as
specific as possible. Give an approximate length and diameter. Describe any markings it
has; stripes, spots, dots, lines, etc. Many caterpillars have eyespots on
their heads. What color are these spots? How many stripes does it have and are they
longwise or crosswise on its body, and how many are there? Is it fuzzy or hairy (there IS
a difference, woolly bears are fuzzy; oleander cats are hairy)? What color is the hair?
How about spines or spikes? WHERE are they located? Some caterpillars have one horn on
their rear-end, some have spines all over their bodies, and some have knobs
right behind the head. What color are these spikes, spines, horns, or knobs?
Describe any peculiarities in its actions night feeder or
day feeder? Does it spin a web and eat inside it? Does it cut leaves and wrap them around
itself? Does it fall off its leaf when disturbed and hang from a silken thread? Does it
rear its head or tail in attempts to frighten you away?
Describe how your caterpillar looks as accurately as you can. Observe it for a few
moments and note any thing you see. All these clues will help in identification of your
mystery caterpillar. It makes the job easier in identification. If I dont know what
it is, knowing where you are will give me an idea of who to go to for advice. Ive
met butterfly huggers all around the U.S., and it seems we all have our areas of
expertise. Once weve figured out what it is that you have, then we can advise you on
the FUN part raising your caterpillar.