Caterpillar Hunt

June is a fine time to look for the larvae of butterflies and moths. Here are some ideas and helpful sites for finding and learning about caterpillars.

One way to find caterpillars is to look at leaves on trees and shrubs. If you find holes chewed in the edges or center of leaves, these holes are usually made by caterpillars or beetles. Can you find the insect that made them, hiding somewhere on the leaf? Look carefully.

Insects that eat leaves have some great adaptations that help protect them from being discovered and eaten by birds or other predators. Some are almost the same color as the leaf. Some look almost like a bird dropping. Some are covered in hair. A lot of birds don't eat hairy caterpillars. Some caterpillars are very brightly colored because they have a chemical defense that makes them taste bad. If a bird eats one, the bright color might help the bird remember not to eat another one. If you find a caterpillar, see if you can figure out how it protects itself.

Some caterpillars will drop off a leaf if they think they are in danger. They may fall to the ground so they can hide. Some hang by a long thread of silk-like webbing. This makes them hard to reach. They might even get caught by the wind then and blow to another tree.

Some caterpillars are pest species. Sometimes this is because they feed on a crop plant. When a large number of plants are grown together, the number of caterpillars can become large enough to cause damage to the crop. The Tomato Hornworm and the Cabbage Worm are examples of this type of pest caterpillar. 

Other caterpillar pests are found in an area far from the part of the world where they first developed. They have few enemies in their new homes so they build huge numbers and eat great amounts of plant leaves. A famous example of this is the Gypsy Moth.

How may different caterpillars can you find? Can you figure out what kind of moth or butterfly they will become? Visit the caterpillar section of What Bug Is This? for some help in identifying what you have found. A helpful book found at most libraries or bookstores is the Peterson First Guide To Caterpillars of North America by A.B. Wright published by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston in 1993.

If you find a caterpillar, you can keep it for a day or two if you put it on a few leaves like the one you found it on so it has food. Visit Raising Butterflies and Moths for some tips.

Good luck in your caterpillar hunting!
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