According to the San Diego Zoo, there are more than 165,000 different species of butterflies and moths. All of these insects start as caterpillars. They range in size from the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly, which boasts a wingspan of 11 inches, to the Pygmy Blue Butterfly, which measures just half an inch. The caterpillars of different species develop in a variety of sizes and colors depending on their species and environment. Since some caterpillars are destructive to plants, identifying the species is a vital step to protecting your landscaping.
Things You'll Need
- Digital camera
Take a picture. The photo gives you a static reference to the caterpillar or butterfly. Keep a small digital camera with you when working outside. Snap a picture of interesting caterpillars. Quick moving butterflies may be more difficult to capture with a camera. Consider pulling out your cell phone and taking a quick shot.
Check with your local Agricultural Extension. Many Agricultural Extensions have data on local butterflies and caterpillars. Share your picture, or describe the butterfly or caterpillar you encountered. They can also tell you if the caterpillar is destructive or safe for your plants.
Look online. There are a wide variety of butterfly and caterpillar websites. The Smithsonian institute hosts the Discover Life website. There you answer a series of questions to help you identify the species of caterpillar in your life. You can then register your sighting with the Institute, which keeps track of caterpillar sightings all over the world.
Share your picture with an etymologist. Many local colleges or universities employ professors that study all types of insects. Montana State University hosts a butterfly website that accepts pictures from all over the world. A free membership allows you to upload your photo for identification.
Tips & Warnings
- Use caution when handling caterpillars. Some species protect themselves with toxin-bearing spines. The toxins irritate the skin on contact.
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images
How to Identify Red & Black Striped Snakes
Snakes with red and black stripes can range from deadly poisonous to completely harmless, so it's important to be able to distinguish...
"The Very Hungry Caterpillar" Kindergarten Activities
Eric Carle first published “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in 1964. Since then, this caterpillar has been eating his way through kindergarten classrooms...
Caterpillars of Ohio
The moths and butterflies of Ohio go through distinctive metamorphic developmental stages on their way to becoming adult winged insects. Caterpillars are...
Species of Orange Spiders
As many as 50,000 different species of spider walk the Earth on every continent except Antarctica. All spiders have eight legs, a...