Types of Butterfly Caterpillars With Pictures and Identification Guide

Caterpillars, which transform into butterflies, are a variety of colorful worm-like crawling creatures. The bodies of butterfly caterpillars are usually smooth, and some strange-looking caterpillars may have a spiky appearance. Furthermore, butterfly larvae may have distinctive stripes, patterns, and other identifying features, as well as being green, brown, black or yellow.

Caterpillars that transform into butterflies are easy to identify. The type of butterfly that emerges from a certain species of caterpillar butterfly has distinct traits that may be recognized. A distinctive black, white, and yellow striped caterpillar becomes the renowned monarch butterfly, for example. The zebra longwing butterfly caterpillar, on the other hand, is a black, meaty spike-covered cylindrical caterpillar.

The spiky black caterpillar with stinging spines on its body is the dark brown mourning cloak butterfly. This article contains information on identifying different types of butterfly caterpillars. These worm-like insects may be spotted in a garden landscape, park, or woodland by identifying and photographing caterpillars and butterflies.

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Butterfly Caterpillar Identification 

The size, smooth body, colorful designs, distinctive markings, and host plants on which butterfly caterpillars feed differentiate them from other caterpillars. The presence of horns, branched spines, or spines are additional features that may be used to identify these caterpillars.

Caterpillars with six front legs and numerous stumpy prolegs are also butterflies. Pupae are another method of identifying butterfly caterpillars. Butterfly caterpillars form a hard-shelled chrysalis during their pupation stage. Caterpillars that become butterflies never pupate in the soil, unlike some moth caterpillars.

Caterpillars with hairy bodies are uncommon, despite the fact that some have fleshy spikes. As a result, if you locate a smooth-bodied caterpillar with no wispy hair tufts, it’s likely that you’ve located a butterfly caterpillar. It’s also important to keep in mind that some moth caterpillars have smooth bodies as well.

Types of Butterfly Caterpillars (With Pictures) — Identification Guide

Here are some of the most common and beautiful butterfly caterpillars you may come across.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes)

The black swallowtail caterpillar is a big, fat lime-green larva with black and yellow stripes and dots over its segments. It is mature. When threatened, the brilliant green striped caterpillar releases an obnoxious odor and exhibits an orange forked gland.

The big green caterpillar can grow up to 2 inches (50 mm) in length. Black swallowtail caterpillars are spiky brown caterpillars with a wide white waistband surrounding their middle in the immature stage.

The caterpillar transforms into the gorgeous black swallowtail butterfly after pupation, with black and yellow wings and crimson and blue patterns. The wings of this black-winged insect feature gorgeous yellow, white, and blue designs. Two prominent red marks can be seen at the base of the wings. The wingspan of an adult black swallowtail is 2.7 to 3.3 inches (70 to 84 mm).

Butterfly caterpillar identification

The black swallowtail is a green caterpillar with black longitudinal stripes and yellow dots that is very vivid.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar (Papilio glaucus)

The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly larva has dull green features and pale eyespots on its head, which resemble those of an eye. In comparison to its body, the stumpy green caterpillar has a large head. Before becoming green, then brown, the strange caterpillar goes through a life cycle of brown and white.

The eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar may reach a length of 2.2 inches (55 mm). Several defensive behaviors are exhibited by the eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar. In its first three instars, the caterpillar resembles bird feces. In addition, it displays the Papilio caterpillar’s characteristic behavior of producing a foul stench and displaying a forked “tongue.” In Texas, it’s a common caterpillar.

The little green caterpillar turns into a stunning yellow butterfly with black markings on its hind wings after pupation. The wingspan of a huge butterfly ranges from 3 to 5.5 inches (76 to 140 mm).

Butterfly caterpillar identification

The dark green color, faint bands between segments, and two eye-like markings on the head of the eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar help to identify it.

Cabbage White Butterfly Caterpillar (Pieris rapae)

The cabbage white butterfly larva is a slender, pale green caterpillar with fine setae (hairs) that may be found on cruciferous crops. It bears a yellow longitudinal line and bears green flecks. The caterpillar’s head is black during certain periods. The fuzzy green caterpillar, also known as the cabbage cabbageworm, is a common sight on the underside of cabbage leaves.

The cabbage white butterfly emerges from the pupae of a worm-like caterpillar. The creamy-white wings with little black or brown dots on them distinguish this butterfly. The butterfly has two slender clubbed antennae and a black body that is small in size. It has a wingspan of 32 to 47 mm.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

The cabbage white butterfly caterpillar grows 1” (25 mm) and is identified by its worm-like pale green body covered in fine white hairs.

Hackberry Emperor Butterfly Caterpillar (Asterocampa celtis)

The hackberry emperor butterfly larva has a split rear tail and is covered in a pale green color with a yellowish stripe down its body. The weird spiky horns on the caterpillar’s head, split tail end, and tiny pale green spines on the body are some of the other identifying characteristics.

The hackberry emperor butterfly is a beautiful brown-winged flying insect with white and black markings. Dark brown and light brown with black, yellow, and white spots characterize the butterfly’s wing coloration. With circles of black, blue, and yellow dots on the underside of the wings, they are white and blue. It has a wing span of 2 to 2.6 inches (50 to 66 mm).

Butterfly caterpillar identification

1.4 inches (35 mm) is the length of an adult hackberry emperor butterfly caterpillar. Its vivid green body is spotted with yellowish dots, and its short, thin spines are identifiable.

Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly Caterpillar (Phoebis sennae)

The cloudless sulphur butterfly larva has deeper black stripes across its segments, making it look more like a butterfly. A typical butterfly caterpillar, the golden yellow caterpillar has a smooth body and no hairs. The yellow larva’s indents, which seem to be bands, are another feature to note. The slug-like caterpillar is pale to dark green with a yellow band along its sides and covered in bluish dots during certain instars (growth stages).

The cloudless sulphur butterfly is a lovely yellow insect with light yellow wings and brown borders. It is known as the Phoebis sennae caterpillar. The brownish pattern on the female butterfly’s forewings and black dots on its forewings distinguish it from the male butterfly. The yellow butterfly has a 1.9″ to 2.6″ (48 to 65 mm) wingspan.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

A yellow caterpillar with black stripes on its back and black speckles, the cloudless sluphur caterpillar is a bright yellow color.

Gulf Fritillary / Passion Butterfly Caterpillar (Agraulis vanillae)

The passion butterfly larva is a stunning orange and black caterpillar with black or gray stripes running down its sides. With six black prolegs and six tiny forelegs, the dark orange caterpillar has a slender, cylindrical shape. At the top of its skull, it has two black spiky horns. The caterpillar is frequently found feeding on Passifloraceae family plants in Florida.

The Gulf fritillary butterfly has brown and white markings on its wings, with three white dots on its forewings. It is a gorgeous orange butterfly. The orange butterflies have a range of 65 to 95 millimeters in their wing spans.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

The dark orange body and spiky bands around the caterpillar’s segments distinguish it from other butterfly caterpillars. The caterpillar becomes 0.5 inches (1.2 cm) long as it ages.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly Caterpillar (Nymphalis antiopa)

The mourning cloak butterfly larva is known as the spiky elm caterpillar because of its orange-red stripes and little white dots. A spiny black caterpillar with orangey-red dots down its back, this spiky worm-like creature is a spiny black caterpillar. The spiny elm caterpillar has sharp-looking spikes that may cause a stinging sensation when handled. It is simple to identify.

The mourning cloak butterfly is a dark brown flying insect with a brilliant golden yellow border around its wings. Its attractive brown attire covers it entirely. On the wing margins, there’s also a group of blue dots. Brown and yellow butterflies have a 3-inch (75 mm) wingspan.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

The mourning cloak butterfly’s caterpillar reaches 2″ (50 mm) in length. With its jet-black body and a band of dark red dots on its back, it’s easy to spot.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus)

The monarch butterfly larva is a yellow, white, and black-striped caterpillar that looks something like this. A black, white, and yellow band runs through each of the caterpillar’s segments. The long black fleshy horns and two stumpy tail appendages are otherstripy creature characteristics.

Birds and predators are poisonous to the striped monarch butterfly caterpillar. The larva consumes milkweed, causing it to become unappealing to other animals due to the production of toxins in its body.

The monarch butterfly has black and orange wings with white markings, and it is highly sought after after pupating. The bright orange butterfly with black vein-like designs has a stained-glass window look to it. The butterfly has a wingspan of 3.5 to 4 inches (90 to 102 mm).

Butterfly caterpillar identification

Due to its striped appearance of black, white, and yellow colors, the monarch butterfly caterpillar is easy to identify.

Queen Butterfly Caterpillar (Danaus gilippus)

The queen butterfly larva has black and white stripes with yellow dots on black bands. It has black and white stripes with yellow markings. Two at the front, two at the head, and two at the rear of the plump stripy caterpillar are covered in fleshy tentacles. Yellow, green, blue, blackish brown, and white are some of the color patterns that it has. This caterpillar eats milkweed, much like the monarch caterpillar.

The queen butterfly has black edges and white dots on its wings, and it is a lovely dark brown or orange color. A black ring surrounds the wings’ edges as well. The queen butterfly lacks the black veins found on the monarch butterfly, which distinguishes it from the monarch.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

The queen butterfly caterpillar has six protruding fleshy spines and is a smooth-bodied black and white striped caterpillar. The larva reaches a length of 3 inches (75 mm) when fully developed.

Zebra Longwing Butterfly Caterpillar (Heliconius charithonia)

The zebra longwing butterfly larva has a grayish-green body with many spiky black spikes. It has a grayish-green caterpillar stage. Black dots cover the gray and black cylindrical caterpillar. On spiky black legs, the monster travels around. This gray caterpillar is common on passionflower bushes and feeds on them frequently.

The zebra longwing butterfly has black and white striped wings with white dots, which are reminiscent of a zebra. White stripes on the dark brown to black butterfly make it look like a zebra. These huge black and white butterflies have a wingspan of 2.8 to 3.9 inches (72 to 100 mm).

Butterfly caterpillar identification

A spiky gray caterpillar with branched black spines and a brown underside, the zebra longwing butterfly caterpillar is easily recognized.

White Admiral Butterfly Caterpillar (Limenitis arthemis)

The horned caterpillar looks like bird droppings and is known as the white admiral butterfly caterpillar. The caterpillar has a jagged look and is olive-green or brownish with white stripes. It’s simple to disguise itself on branches because of the white blotches and uneven form. At the top of its head, the caterpillar bears two huge, spikehorned horns.

Before pupating, the white admiral butterfly has black wings with a white band and red and blue dots. The jet-black wings have a bright white band that runs from the top to the bottom. In addition, orangey-red dots adorn the bottom of the huge wings. Iridescent blue wings with pale orange hues may be seen on certain species. It has a 47 to 78 mm wingspan.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

A mottled brown body with dark brown and yellowish patches is found on the white admiral butterfly caterpillar. Its thin white bands across the middle section, as well as two spikey horns over its forehead, distinguish it from other species.

Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar (Aglais io)

The larva of the peacock butterfly has black bristles and little white dots on its body, making it easy to identify. This caterpillar is frightening because of its spiky appearance. The caterpillar doesn’t sting, and its fleshy spines aren’t harmful. The larva’s body, which is reflective black, stands out against the green foliage.

With vibrant eye designs, the gorgeous peacock butterfly has crimson wings. In the top corner of each wing, a magnificent blue and red eyespot frightens predators. A mottled black and dark brown pattern covers the underbelly of the butterfly’s wings. It has a width of 2 inches to 2.1 inches (50 to 55 mm).

Butterfly caterpillar identification

A spiky black caterpillar with white speckles, the peacock butterfly caterpillar is an easy identifier.


Pearl Crescent Butterfly Caterpillar (Phyciodes tharos)

The larval form of the pearl crescent butterfly has a dark brown body with tiny white dots and little spiky hairs. White dots and tufts of short spines cover the fat, spiny milky coffee-colored caterpillar. When threatened, this brown caterpillar’s front half rises in a threatening position, which is a typical behavior.

The attractive orange and brown pearl crescent butterfly has orange wings with blackish patterns on them. The butterfly’s rusty orange wings feature a complicated pattern of black marks. The wingspan of the butterfly ranges from 0.82 to 1.33 inches (21 to 34 mm).

Butterfly caterpillar identification

A spiny brown caterpillar with a black head covered in tiny white dots is the identifying characteristic of the pearl crescent butterfly.

American Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar (Vanessa virginiensis)

The American painted lady butterfly larva has yellow traversing bands and red and white dots on its brown body, with pale yellow stripes on the brown body. The patterning on the spotted brown and yellow caterpillar is extremely unusual. Its brown body has thin black lines around the yellow bands.

The spiky caterpillar transforms into an stunning orange and brown butterfly, with four distinct eyespots on the ventral sides of its wings (undersides), which has fascinating patterns on both top and underside. The top (dorsal) side of the wings is orange with brown edges, white specks, and dark brown to black patterns.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

A yellow-banded brown caterpillar with razor-sharp spines and brilliant red and creamy-white markings, the unique American lady butterfly caterpillar is a sight to behold.

Common Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillar (Junonia coenia)

The common buckeye butterfly larva has two prominent stripes down its back and tufts of long, black spines. It is dark brown with pale markings and orange dots. The caterpillars have reddish-orange and white markings on their spikes. The bulbous orange head of the black caterpillar is a prominent identifying feature.

The black spiky larva emerges as a stunning brown buckeye butterfly after it pupates, with its colorful eye-like patterns. The butterfly’s brown wings have six bright eye markings, making it easy to identify. Furthermore, the orange patterns on this lovely butterfly enhance its appeal. It has a 2″ to 2.5″ (50–65 mm) wingspan.

Butterfly caterpillar identification

The dark brown or black color, faint stripes along its abdomen, and tufts of short spines distinguish the common buckeye caterpillar, which grows up to 1.57″ (40 mm) long.

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