Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hairy Caterpillar

I’m beginning to see hairy caterpillars on the move. During late summer and early fall, various species of hairy moth larvae finish feeding and go charging off overland to find a suitable place to pupate. The coloration on the mouth parts on this guy makes it look like he’s got quite a set of teeth.

When I was eleven and twelve I used to ride my bike up and down the roads looking for caterpillars like this one. I had a shoe box with a hole in the lid taped to my handlebars and I would scoop caterpillars from the road and drop them through the hole into the box. My daily catch would be transferred into larger, leaf filled boxes in the garage. The sound of rustling caterpillars could be heard coming from the boxes for many days. Finally, the caterpillars would pupate and everything would be still. In the spring, I would open the boxes every few days to let out all of the moths. There was always a large assortment of species, none of which I could identify or even match to the caterpillar. No scientific value, but a lot of fun.

From above, it’s pretty hard to tell which end is which.

Sometimes it’s even tricky when you look from the end. This is a shot of the rear of the caterpillar. The foot-like things are part of the last set of prolegs. The first three sets of legs on a caterpillar are part of the thoracic section and are the six true legs characteristic of insects. The rest of the legs are growths from the abdomen and are known as prolegs.

Caterpillar hairs are not equally spaced on the skin as you would find in mammals. The hairs radiate from specific growth points located on each individual segment. This gives each cluster of hairs a starburst pattern.

This caterpillar was feeding on a small ironweed and the leaves show a lot of feeding damage. Photos were taken in the morning. When I went by in the evening, the caterpillar was no longer on the plant. Maybe it’s off on its journey to find a pupation site.


  1. You've brought back such fond memories from my childhood of doing the same thing with caterpillars and shoe boxes and even jars. I remember finding a jar I had forgotten behind a bush and a beautiful butterfly emerging. I opened the jar and let it go, of course. I wish I had a decent camera way back then, but we were still using paint brushes and canvas back then. ;)

  2. Hi Steve...I think your caterpillar has false teeth!!
    He sure looks picky but I know he would soft to the touch!! I haven't seen another since I posted the one I did!!
    Interesting Critters..and they always seem like they have a real mission in mind!!!!

  3. Hi, Lois. I consider caterpillar collecting to be a normal adolescent activity. I find it odd when someone tells me they never pick up one caterpillar.

    Hi, grammie g. Before I posted this, I went back and looked at your caterpillar to see if their coloring was the same. It wasn’t. I wonder why you have such a shortage on butterflies and moths.

  4. Hi Steve ... love the information and photos here. I just wanted to let you know that I used one of your caterpillar photos on my blog. Animal Cognizence - it is mostly photographs for animal and ecological awareness. If you want me to remove it just let me know.

    I have never seen so many unusual caterpillars as this year. Quite a few different toussok moth caterpillars.

  5. Hi, Marisa. Thanks for letting me know about using the photo. I've seen bunches of strange caterpillars as well. They've all been moth caterpillars. For some reason, butterflies have been rather scarce this year.