Pets & Animal Insects & Spiders

How Many Types of Caterpillars Are There?

    Types of Caterpillars

    • There are more than 20,000 known species of caterpillars. That number steadily increases as more species are discovered. New species are frequently found in areas where there is little to no human presence. The types of caterpillars that are common in an area will vary depending on the region.

    Common North American Caterpillars

    • Tent caterpillars are commonly noted in North America because their populations tend increase dramatically in seven to 10-year cycles. These caterpillars are brown and hairy with patterns or colored markings. Another common North American caterpillar is the monarch which feeds on milkweed, making it poisonous to predators such as birds. Monarchs are found all across North America and migrate to central California and Mexico each fall. A common nuisance caterpillar is the cabbageworm, also called the cabbage white caterpillar. This caterpillar is green with white hairs along its body. According to The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the cabbage white was originally imported from Europe, appearing in Canada in 1860, and can now be found in many areas throughout North America. The cabbage white caterpillar feeds on cabbage plants, radishes, mustard plants and pepper grass.


    • A caterpillar has a segmented body that consists of a head, thorax and abdomen. On their bodies, caterpillars have two types of legs. The three jointed pairs of legs attached to the thorax, called thoracic legs, are hooked so that the caterpillar can use these to hold onto its food. The prolegs enable the caterpillar to climb. There are typically five sets of these legs on the caterpillar's abdomen and they have small grasping hooks on them to facilitate climbing on a variety of surfaces. The prolegs typically disappear in an adult caterpillar. Caterpillars vary in size, color and markings. The goal of a caterpillar's appearance is to deter its predators from eating it. This is done by either appearing poisonous, or by blending into the habitat so it cannot be seen.


    • Most species of caterpillar are herbivores, feeding on the nectar from flowers or on leaves and plants. Some species are known to be carnivorous, eating insects that are within their habitat.


    • Caterpillars are often small and, because of their worm shape, they are attractive to birds. Large insects, such as wasps, are also a major predator for many species of caterpillars. Small animals such as reptiles and small mammals will also feed on caterpillars.

    Life Cycle

    • All species of caterpillar hatch from eggs laid by moths or butterflies. This larval stage typically lasts from two weeks to a month. During this time, the caterpillar feeds until it reaches the full size for its species and then it finds a protected area to change into a pupa. Inside the pupa, the caterpillar begins its transformation into a butterfly or moth.

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