Caterpillars are butterflies or moths that have yet to reach maturity. In the Northeastern United States, moths and butterflies are welcomed garden guests during the spring and summer months. Full grown butterflies and moths help pollinate flowers and are beautiful to look at, but these beauties in their larval state can be destructive to trees and garden plants. In the Northeastern United States whole forests have succumbed to caterpillar damage. Control measures have been taken to limit the amount of lava in some areas with mass pesticide applications, but overpopulation and plant destruction remains a concern.
Gypsy Moth Caterpillar
The caterpillar of the gypsy moth is a colorful specimen with an olive to brown colored body with yellow-green parallel stripes. Between each stripe is a row of blue dots that turn to reddish orange at the body's center. Gypsy moth caterpillars were accidentally introduced to the Northeastern United States in 1868. The caterpillars have a sweet tooth for fruit trees, willows and oaks and have single handedly defoliated whole forests and orchards. Most wooded areas in the Northeastern United States have to be sprayed annually to control the gypsy moth population. This mass pesticide spraying has radically reduced the amount of gypsy moths, but has also had detrimental effects on other moth species as well.
Woolly Bear Caterpillar/ Isabella Tiger Moth Caterpillar
The Woolly Bear Caterpillar is most commonly known for the old wives tale that the thicker the caterpillar's fur or fuzz, the harsher the winter will be. These fuzzy little caterpillars are covered in small hairs that make them appear woolly. The hairs at the head end and back end of the body are black with a band of orange hairs in the body's center. These caterpillars transform into the Isabella tiger moth which live in woodlands, marshes and fields throughout the United States and Southern Canada.
These caterpillars are sometimes called inch worms because they inch along leaves using only their front and back legs. The spring cankerworm has a segmented body that is white on top and orange on its underside. The caterpillar has only two sets of orange legs near the back of its body and three sets near the front of its body, and no legs in the center. Cankerworms are the larval state of the Looper moth.
American Tent Caterpillar
American tent caterpillars are recognized for the large white silk tents they create between the branches of trees. These tents house large groups of caterpillars that are cream to brown in color with segmented bodies. These caterpillars only leave the tent to feed on the leaves of the tree. Tent caterpillars can defoliate the entire tree they live in before they become moths. These caterpillars are most common in apple and cherry trees but they have been known to live in shrubs as well.
Adult monarch butterflies migrate hundreds of miles from Mexico and California to populate Northeastern gardens in the spring and summer months. In The spring the butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants that hatch into larva caterpillars. The monarch caterpillar is the most commonly known caterpillar because of its beautiful orange and black adult state. The monarch caterpillar is a thick bodied caterpillar that is covered in white, yellow and black stripes. Both ends of the caterpillar have antenna to confuse predators. The caterpillars live solely off the leaves of the milkweed plant. The leaves of the milkweed plant contain a toxin that makes the caterpillar poisonous to predators. Monarchs spend their entire larval state around milkweed plants in wet lands, fields and gardens.
- "Peterson First Guide Butterflies And Moths"; Paul A. Opler; 1994
- "North American Wildlife"; Reader's Digest; 1982
- Backyard Nature: Caterpillars
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