Caterpillar: types, photos and names, interesting facts, where they live, what they eat, how long they live, transformation into a butterfly,

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A caterpillar is the larva (baby) of a butterfly and moth. After about 2-3 weeks, the caterpillar becomes a cocoon, and turns into a pupa after another 2 weeks. Then a caterpillar appears with grown wings. The caterpillar is a well-known pest, especially in the textile industry. One type of caterpillar destroys silk in the Far East, it is known as the silkworm.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Caterpillar

There are more than 20,000 species of caterpillars worldwide, and it is estimated that there are many more that have not been discovered as new butterfly species and that are regularly found in regions where there is little, if any, human presence. Generally, most species of caterpillars are agricultural pests as they can wade through fields, often leaving huge holes that damage plants.

Interesting fact: Some species of caterpillars are highly poisonous, especially those that live in tropical forests. Other species are only venomous in their caterpillar form, meaning when they change into a butterfly or moth they no longer have venom.

Video: Caterpillar

Butterflies and moths spend their youth as caterpillars called the larval stage. Caterpillars feed constantly. They outgrow their skin and shed it several times. After the last molt, the caterpillar attaches itself to a branch and enters the pupal stage.

Fun fact: Moth caterpillars use silk thread from their silk glands to spin their protective cocoon. Inside the cocoon, the pupa goes through a process called metamorphosis. The caterpillar's six front legs turn into the legs of an adult insect, the other legs disappear, wings grow, and the insect appears in the form of a beautiful butterfly.

Caterpillars vary in size, color and appearance depending on their species. Some caterpillars are brightly colored, while other species look rather dull in comparison. Some types of caterpillars are hairy, while others are smooth. The caterpillar's main goal is to scare predators and keep them from eating them.


Most have cylindrical bodies composed of several segments, with three pairs of true legs on the thorax and several pairs of short, thicker false limbs on the abdomen. The head contains six pairs of small eyes (stem eyes) that function in detecting light but not in forming images. They have short, segmented antennae and strong jaws. Many caterpillars in the order Lepidoptera are called worms, such as the silkworm (silkworm) and the army worm (Spodoptera frugipeda).

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Appearance and features

Photo: What a caterpillar looks like

The most common caterpillars are:

  • large white caterpillar (Pieris brassicae), the adults of which are called cabbage white butterflies. The caterpillars accumulate high concentrations of mustard oil in their diet, and their bright, spotted bodies alert potential predators to their unpleasant taste;
  • small turtle caterpillar (Aglais urticae). Living together benefits caterpillars because they can combine their bodies in unison, acting as one large organism in an attempt to ward off predators. Eventually, individual caterpillars crawl away separately to pupate. Tortoiseshell caterpillars can be seen from May to June, with adults potentially active throughout the year;
  • comma caterpillar (Polygonia c-album). The caterpillars change color quite a bit throughout their larval stage, but the older caterpillars are the most distinctive. Scorched orange and black hatchlings develop a white "saddle" mark, reminiscent of a bird's shedding, which deters predators;
  • bloody bear caterpillar (Tyria jacobaeae). Growing up to 28mm, these black and yellow caterpillars are very distinctive and easy to identify as they look like they are wearing a rugby shirt;
  • silver hole caterpillar (Phalera bucephala). This black and yellow caterpillar reaches 70 mm in length and has hairs that are irritating to humans and good at protecting themselves from predators;
  • caterpillar of the pale tuberculate moth (Calliteara pudibunda). The caterpillars can grow up to 45mm and reach full size in about two months. The stubble on the caterpillar's body is known to cause skin irritation in humans. The adults are a beautiful gray moth with comb-like antennae;
  • caterpillar of the maple moth (Acronicta aceris). It is an urban species, distinguished by bright orange hair and black and white diamond patterns along the back;
  • caterpillar of the Acronicta psi. After hatching from the eggs, which only take a week to hatch, the caterpillars grow to 40mm within about thirty days. Gray caterpillars can be found from July to early October. The whitish adults are active from mid-May to August. Their yellow stripe serves as camouflage on plant stems.

Now you know what a caterpillar looks like. Let's find out where this insect is found.

Where does the caterpillar live?

Photo: Caterpillar in nature

The great white caterpillar is just 45mm long and feeds on cabbage, lettuce and nasturtium for four weeks - which is why farmers and gardeners consider them a pest. The green eggs of the small tortoiseshell caterpillar are laid in groups on stinging nettles, and the spiny black and yellow caterpillars then live together, forming a shared silken web and feeding on nearby leaves to grow up to 30mm in length. As they grow, they move on to new plants and build new webs, leaving behind old sheds full of skins;

The comma caterpillar grows up to 35 mm and lives on hops and nettles. These caterpillars can be found from late April to mid-September, but the butterflies are active all year round. They suffered a noticeable decline in the 1800s, likely due to a decline in the planting of their favorite food, hops, but have since experienced a resurgence. Blood bear caterpillars pupate underground, rather than in a chrysalis on a tree like other caterpillars. Adults fly from May to early August. There are boom and bust population fluctuations at the local level.

Silver hole caterpillars are fully grown in 30 days and pupate underground during the winter. Pinecone moth caterpillars are found between July and early October. The adult is active from late May to July, and its markings are designed to look like it has a broken wing. Pallid moth caterpillars have been found on a variety of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, including birch and hops. They can be seen from late June to early October, but are more often seen crawling around in search of a place to pupate in the fall. Adults fly between July and August.

The maple lancet caterpillar lives on sycamore, horse chestnut, as well as cultivated and field maples. Caterpillars are found from July to September. In winter, they pupate on the ground, in debris like bark and fallen leaves. Adults are active from mid-June to early August.


There are different types of caterpillars. This is primarily due to the diversity of the Lepidoptera themselves. Interestingly, the color of the larva does not always match the color of the adult. One classification of caterpillar species is based on what they eat.

  • The group of polyphages is represented by their representatives who are completely indiscriminate in food and can eat any plants. These include moths, for example, wine hawkmoth, ocellated hawkmoth, blind hawkmoth, kaya bear, moths, peacock eye and others.
  • The group of monophages includes caterpillars that feed only on one specific type of plant. These are cabbageweed, apple moth, silkworm and some others.
  • The group of oligophages includes those who feed on a specific type of plant; they represent one family or type. These include: swallowtails, pine cutworm, polyxena and others.
  • Xylophages are caterpillars whose food is wood or bark. This group is represented by leaf rollers, wood borers and others.

What does a caterpillar eat?

Photo: Red caterpillar

The caterpillar is a herbivore, but the diets of a caterpillar and a butterfly are different. Butterflies use straw-like tongues to drink nectar from flowers, an adaptation that occurs during the process when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Caterpillars feed primarily on leaves, plants and flowering plants, and large holes can often be found in the leaves, indicating the presence of a caterpillar.

Interesting fact: The caterpillar is a real food machine - a cylindrical sac for digesting plants. Over the course of the few days or weeks that it is active, the caterpillar will consume its own weight many times, whatever the food it chooses.

For example, the comma caterpillar feeds on the underside of leaves when young, but begins to feed on the upper side as it grows. The feeding pattern of the blood bear caterpillar is distinctive, giving a shredded appearance to the common slaughterhouse they feed on. These caterpillars feed in groups, mainly during the day, from July to early September. When the plant's leaves disappear, they sometimes resort to cannibalism.

The silvery hole caterpillar feeds on oak leaves. After hatching from the egg cluster, the larvae feed together, leaving alone when they grow to a large size. Maple lancet caterpillars, which reach a length of 40 mm, sometimes fall from the trees on which they feed. Psi lancet caterpillars feed on broad-leaved trees and shrubs such as hawthorn, apple and birch.

Many species of caterpillars are known to be carnivorous and feed on a variety of insects. Most caterpillars are herbivores and feed primarily on leaves, although some species feed on all parts of the plant, fungi, and dead animals, including other caterpillars.

Features of character and lifestyle

Photo: Black caterpillar

Caterpillars may be world-class transformers as they literally transform from wiggly worms into beautiful butterflies, but that's not their only transformative trait. Caterpillars are often camouflaged among plants due to their coloring, and their fuzzy skin often resembles thorns on a branch. This camouflage ability helps the caterpillars survive until they reach full maturity and begin metamorphosis - from a pupa to a butterfly.

The pupation stage begins with the adult caterpillar attaching itself to the bark of a tree or other hard object and then splitting its skin to reveal the pupa. The transformation occurs inside the pupa as the caterpillar begins to disintegrate into liquid and only a few remaining cells develop into the adult butterfly.

Once the caterpillar has completed its metamorphosis into a butterfly, it will open up and a butterfly will emerge. It wastes no time in mating and laying eggs, as most butterflies have a short lifespan of a few weeks. The butterfly eggs are hatched by the caterpillar larvae, and the cycle begins again.

Typically, six metamorphic transformations occur along the butterfly's growth path, each of which is stimulated by the release of the molting hormone ecdysone from the premammary gland. Juvenile hormone, secreted by the endocrine gland, slows progress into adulthood: although the level of the hormone is high, it keeps the caterpillar in the larva.

However, the secretion of juvenile hormone slows down over time. Only when it falls below a critical level does molting lead to pupa and pupation. At this time, a massive redistribution of nutrients occurs, and adults may finally develop features. As the level of juvenile hormone drops to almost zero, the final molt of the adult occurs.

Hawkmoth butterfly feeding

Most individuals of Hawkmoths feed on flower nectar, but they do not sit on the flower, but hover over it and suck the nectar with their long proboscis. This flight is considered the most difficult, it is aerobatics, not all insects have it, but it does not contribute to plant pollination.

Some Hawk Moths prefer to consume bee honey. So the Death's Head butterfly literally robs the hives at night, hovering over them and imitating the buzzing of a bee, penetrates inside the hive, pierces the honeycombs with its strong trunk and sucks out the honey.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Pair of caterpillars

Caterpillars are ready to become butterflies from birth. Even in the smallest caterpillar, freshly hatched from a tiny egg, bundles of cells for organs such as antennae, wings, legs and genitals are already primed and destined to become adults. Called imaginal discs (being flat and round), they are unable to grow and develop due to the constant leaching of juvenile hormone.

As the larva feeds, its intestine, muscles and some other internal organs grow and develop, but the imaginal discs are temporarily suppressed and remain dormant. The caterpillar behaves like a free-living, feeding, growing, but developmentally suppressed embryo.

When it reaches a critical size, the molting hormone, ecdysone, is released. It sheds its skin several times in response to ecdysone, each time forming a new instar (stage), but the juvenile hormone keeps it in the caterpillar, preventing further development until its concentration approaches full size and the concentration of the latter decreases.

In the fifth and final instar of the caterpillar, the imaginal discs are already beginning to emerge from forced dormancy and grow. Juvenile hormone now falls below threshold and the next surge of ecdysone stimulates transformation into pupa. The flattened imaginal discs begin to develop unhindered. Each folds into a concave dome, then takes the shape of a sock. The center of each disc is designed to become a limb—the tip of a paw or the tip of a wing.

Much of the caterpillar's plump mass is processed into adult features, which merge into the inner shell of the pupa. At this stage, the interior consists mainly of a nutrient soup that nourishes the embryonic imaginal discs as they complete their delayed development. The final surge of ecdysone occurs amid nearly zero juvenile hormone—and stimulates the emergence of the adult butterfly to mate, disperse, and lay eggs.

Second stage of development

Caterpillars are very insatiable creatures. They go through various growth phases during their development. Apolisis is the process by which the caterpillar sheds its cuticle, an outer layer of protein and chitin. By the time the last growth phase is reached, wing development begins.

Caterpillar legs are of two types, that is, true and false. If there are only three pairs of the former, then there can be six of the latter on the body

The second and third thoracic segments of the caterpillar's body have wing discs. Their development is associated with the trachea. They grow rapidly during the last stage of this phase. Hemolymph gradually displaces the wings through the epidermis.

Natural enemies of caterpillars

Photo: What a caterpillar looks like

Due to their small size and worm-like shape, the caterpillars are preyed upon by many species of animals, but the caterpillar's main enemies are birds and insects. Caterpillars are also often preyed on by small mammals and reptiles.

Caterpillars cannot easily escape from predators because they move slowly and do not yet have wings. This means they either have to rely on camouflage to keep predators from noticing them (which gives us caterpillars that look like leaves, plant stems, etc.) or they have evolved to be bright and sharp, so that's it. anyone who might want to eat them knows it would be a bad idea.

Caterpillars are found in almost all climates around the world, making their predators abundant.

In addition to birds, they feed on caterpillars:

  • People - Caterpillars are a delicacy for people in parts of the world such as Botswana in southern Africa, as well as East Asian countries such as China. In fact, caterpillars flock to these areas daily due to their high nutritional value. Compared to beef, lentils and fish, caterpillars contain more protein and fat;
  • wasps are known for carrying caterpillars to their nests as food for their young. Wasps are beneficial to the garden because they often catch caterpillars of almost any size, thereby keeping them under control. However, wasps feed on caterpillars primarily in the spring and early summer. As the season progresses, their population becomes acidic and their diets change to other, more sugar-laden ones;
  • Ladybugs are small, fairly round, brightly colored and spotted beetles that feed primarily on aphids. Ladybugs can eat other insects, especially caterpillars. Because aphids and caterpillars are harmful to plants, gardeners use ladybugs to biologically control them. Caterpillars have rather soft bodies and ladybugs find them very tasty, especially the small ones.


This moth's favorite treat is flower nectar. How he gets it was mentioned a little higher. It is worth adding that this is not at all easy to do. Such stunts are considered aerobatics.

Hawkmoth collecting nectar from a flower

In order to get the honey that butterflies love, they have to fly over the hive and pretend that they are bees. A funny and interesting show. It is not difficult for a hawk moth to use its proboscis to pierce a honeycomb and feast on honey from it.

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