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Identifying Caterpillars: A List of Useful Features

Identifying a caterpillar can be a challenge. There are many insects that start life as larvae, and they do not all turn into butterflies or moths. Insects like craneflies, sawflies and beetles can have very caterpillar-like larvae. Here are a few examples:

A sawfly larva , a syrphid fly larva ,

a beetle larva , and a cranefly larva .

If you do have a moth or butterfly larva, there are some good online keys you can try. The first three links below will take you to the interactive keys. The last two links take you to a couple of other sites I have found helpful.


Discover Life

What's This Caterpillar

Common Caterpillar Pests of Vegetables by Texas A&M University

Caterpillars of the Pacific Northwest

Caterpillars of Eastern Forests


You can also try using the terms shown below in the Bugguide.net search. For example, you can type in caterpillar tufts to find tufted caterpillars. Be aware that the search engine picks up on terms used in the image description, so there are times when the search may bring up irrelevant images and leave out relevant ones. Some of my best search results come from typing in things that are very obvious about the larva, such as, hairy caterpillar, green caterpillar, etc.

Bugguide.net has many images of caterpillars (221 pages of images as of Oct. 07). You can always try browsing through them starting here, but it may take some time to get through them all. You may also want to click the "caterpillars" tab next to "show images of" or you'll be adding a lot of extra time browsing the adult forms as well.

Of course, there are a few people on Bugguide.net who know many caterpillars by sight. So, take a picture of the caterpillar and the plant it's on and post it in ID Request. If you can't take a picture, you can try using the terms below to post a description in the General Discussion Forum. When possible it is helpful to post the length of the caterpillar, the plant it is feeding on, and the location where it was found. Even if no one knows the caterpillar immediately, people will often do research online or with Guides they may have access to.

Good Luck! I hope you find what you're looking for.





HAIR


Smooth (no hair)
   


Sparse Hair
   


Hair Tufts, Tussocks, or Pencils
   


Dense Hair
   



IDENTIFYING FEATURES


Knobs, Warts
   


Spines
   


Tubercles or Tentacles
   


Horns or Tails
   


Humps
   



BODY PATTERN


Camouflaged
   


Spotted
 

  Middorsal Spots     Subdorsal Spots
     

Speckled
 


Ringed (bands going around the body)
   


Lined

  Middorsal Longitudinal Line     Subdorsal Longitudinal Line
                   

  Oblique Lines
 


Banded (thick Line)
 

  Middorsal Longitudinal Band     Subdorsal Longitudinal Band
                       


Streaks
 


Middorsal Dashes       Subdorsal Dashes
         


Saddled
 

Caterpillar Identification
i have a multitude of caterpillars i tend to in a fish tank. i have over 30 of them and only know one species and that is the Wooly bear. the rest i have no clue who they are. can u help me if i post pictures of them?

 
Probably not me....
but yes, someone may be able to help you. Please just post your images in the ID Request section.

Subtitle, perhaps?
Maybe you need a subtitle or some sort of qualifier, such as:
IDENTIFYING CATERPILLARS: A List of Useful Features.

 
Good Idea
done.

Thanks!
so much for taking the time to assemble this nice draft - this is such a common ID question. Two minor comments: "Di(s)cover Life" link spelling error. Second Link - "Common Caterpillar Pests of Vegetables" - I went to the website and had a difficult time deciding whether it applied mainly to Texas caterpillars (in which case a note should be made in the link) or was a general key.

Ken

 
Thanks
I'm not sure about that myself. I'll add a general comment, and let the user decide.

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