A Complete Fuzzy Caterpillar Identification Guide For You | Kidadl


A Complete Fuzzy Caterpillar Identification Guide For You

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Most of us would be a little scared to suddenly see a hairy caterpillar roaming on the bark of oak trees.

Having said that, we do agree the world of these fuzzy creatures is astonishing. They often look like the bristled end of a toothbrush, and even though they look scary, most are harmless. At times, fuzzy caterpillars can be seen gathered on the bark of the same tree, and it may look like a bizarre incident. But, in most cases, the caterpillars will actually be found on the leaves of their host plants as it munches on the leaves to become mature caterpillars. As people are still unaware of the interesting lifespan of most furry caterpillar species, we thought of creating this guide. So, do keep reading if you want to know about fuzzy caterpillar identification.

If you like reading this article, why not find out more about caterpillar sting and caterpillar cocoon.

What are fuzzy caterpillars?

Fuzzy or hairy caterpillars are nothing but the larval stage of moths.

When you first look at a fuzzy caterpillar, it may seem like a worm on its own. But, you would be thrilled to know that it's actually a larvae of some of the most common moths that are seen around us. A moth usually lays its eggs on the leaf of a host plant. And, after hatching, the larvae come out, which are the fuzzy mother caterpillar. However, you do need to remember that every moth caterpillar isn't fuzzy or hairy.

The caterpillar lives on the host plant munching on leaves and getting bigger in size to form mature larvae. In the beginning, most caterpillars are tiny, but as it gets bigger, the moth caterpillars would also shed skin in a process called 'molting', which can also lead to a change in look. Hence, if you observe a group of hairy caterpillars throughout this stage, it's possible to notice the subtle changes that take place in the appearance.

How to identify fuzzy caterpillars?

We are here to identify the most common fuzzy caterpillars that you may find in your backyard, and the most common way to do it is by observing the color patterns, the nature of spines or hairs, and many other factors. So, we will look at some obvious variants.

Let's start with the gypsy moth caterpillar. The brown and black caterpillar is very hard to miss, and it has distinct red and blue dots on its body. The caterpillar feeds on the leaves of hardwood trees like poplar, willow, apple, and hawthorn. The size varies between 1.5-1.9 in (4-5 cm). Even though the caterpillar is found in North America, it was originally found in Europe and Asia.

Next, we have the garden tiger moth caterpillar, which is also known as the woolly bear caterpillar (other species of the Arctiidae genus also share this name). It's called the tiger moth because of the black and brown hairs present on its body, and the caterpillar grows to a size of around 2.1 in (5.5 cm). Apart from the British Isles, this caterpillar is also seen in the USA.

Similar to the garden tiger moth caterpillar, the banded woolly bear also has a similar fuzzy appearance. But, it does have a striped appearance of dark orange and black hairs. The usual color pattern of the banded woolly bear is black-orange-black. This woolly worm attains a size of around 2.2 in (5.7 cm) and is also known by the name of Isabella tiger moth. You may find it on plants like dandelions, elms, maples, sunflowers, birches, and even on herbs.

The yellow woolly bear moth caterpillars are similar to the former two variants, but it's completely covered in yellow tufts. The yellow woolly bear caterpillar is common to spot as the caterpillars are present on garden plants and even on vegetable plants like eggplant, sweet potato, and carrot. The average length of yellow woolly bears is around 1.9 in (5 cm), and it's predominantly found on the eastern coast of North America. It's also known as the Virginia tiger moth caterpillar.

Now, let's come to one of the most interesting hairy caterpillars, the sycamore tussock moth caterpillar. This is a yellowish-white caterpillar, but you can easily identify it by the pairs of orange and white hair pencils on either side of its body. The sycamore tussock moth caterpillar is also relatively small at 1.1 in (3 cm), and as you must have guessed, the sycamore caterpillar is found on the sycamore tree. You may find the sycamore tussock moth caterpillar in Canada, the USA, and Mexico.

By far, the most intriguing moth caterpillar has to be the white-marked tussock caterpillar that has a bright red head and thick tufts of white or yellow hair coming out from four of its segments. Moreover, its back is covered in yellow and black stripes, along with a black hair pencil present at the end of its abdomen. These caterpillars are found on more than 140 host plants and are found especially in urban areas.

We also really like the southern flannel moth caterpillar that goes by the name of puss moth or asp as well. These are some of the furry caterpillars that have a long hairy tail and are usually covered in bright orange hair or golden brown hair along with specks of black and gray flakes. The young caterpillars have curlier hairs, and some have bright yellow stripes running down the back. You can find this caterpillar on trees like almond, rose, hackberry, oak, apple, orange, and pecan.

The southern tent caterpillars are usually seen on trees like aspen, mahogany, crabapple, poplar, along with shrubs. The tent caterpillars have a bright blue head along with a majorly brown and orange body with blue or orange dashes on the sides. One of the unique aspects of the tent caterpillar is the habit of huddling up on a tree which may make the formation feel like a deadly spider nest. The southern tent caterpillars are named so because of the phenomenon of building nests where the colonies molt and go through the different instars. Even though not poisonous, the tent caterpillar is known to give allergic reactions to some people.

The next one is the American dagger caterpillar that's a yellow-white fuzzy caterpillar with long black spines coming out of its body. It's predominantly found in eastern North America on trees like hickory, poplar, walnut, ash, and birch, to name a few. This caterpillar also has a shiny black head and forms a cocoon when it's time to pupate.

A fuzzy wooly bear caterpillar crawls along an old stone wall

What fuzzy caterpillars are poisonous?

Even though most fuzzy caterpillars are harmless, the southern flannel moth caterpillar, also known as the puss moth caterpillar, is considered to be one of the most poisonous hairy caterpillar species.

When it comes to finding fuzzy caterpillars, it's best to handle each one with care. Even though most of them would be harmless, you can still get an allergic reaction from the hairs. However, the puss moth caterpillar is known for its poisonous sting, which can be pretty painful. And, the worst part is that the spines are hidden under the layers of fluffy amber-brown hairs. Hence, often people try to pet this cute moth caterpillar and end up getting stung.

Moreover, the puss moth also has a habit of dropping on people and may easily end up on either the neck or arm of a person. Even though the sting isn't fatal or too dangerous, it's still enough to confine you to the emergency room for hours till the pain or burning goes away. Other than that, the hickory tussock moth caterpillar is also known to be a stinger.

It's not a stinger, but the spines of a white-tussock moth caterpillar can be quite irritating. So, if you want to raise one, make sure to use gloves while handling it.

What do fuzzy caterpillars turn into?

When you see a fuzzy caterpillar traveling through a plant, you can be sure that it will soon turn into a beautiful moth.

Contrary to popular belief, fuzzy caterpillars solely bear moths and not butterflies. So, the caterpillar of garden tiger moth caterpillar would end up becoming tiger moths. The life of a caterpillar starts when the adult moth decides to lay its egg on the leaf of host plants. After hatching, these leaves would be the only form of sustenance for these caterpillars. Even those the hatchlings are pretty small, they would soon eat up a lot and within days become beautiful fluffy caterpillars.

After going through transformations and molting, there comes a time when the mature caterpillar is ready to turn into a pupa. In some cases, the caterpillar will spin a cocoon around its body, while others form a shell around its body, drop to the ground and spend its time inside the soil. Some moth pupae will spend the whole winter season inside the soil until it's ready to get out in the form of a beautiful winged moth. Most of the moths would spend the longest time in their lives as either a caterpillar or a pupa rather than as an adult moth.

Interestingly, the females of the white-marked tussock moth never grow wings. Instead, it would mature into an adult and spend its time in the cocoon. The female would even mate and lay eggs in the cocoon, finally dying at the same spot. To protect itself from predators, the moth caterpillar of this species spins the cocoon around its spines or setae to form a barrier.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for fuzzy caterpillar identification then why not take a look at the bee life cycle or Paris peacock facts.

<p>With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature.&nbsp;</p>

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