The larval form of butterflies and moths is the caterpillar. The tubular and segmented bodies are easy to recognise and caterpillars have about 4,000 muscles. Many of the muscles are used to contract the body so that the caterpillar can move. Caterpillars have opposable toothed mandibles, mouth parts that are visible with a magnifying glass. Caterpillars are hungry and many moths species are best known for their caterpillar stages, which is the stage when they cause the most damage to fruits and other agricultural produce.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
Things you need
- Magnifying glass
- Insect books
Find what sort of caterpillars live in your area. There are many different types of caterpillars and they live on different plants.
Check what time of year the caterpillars are out in your area.
Caterpillars are easy to find in spring and early summer. Most moths and some butterflies overwinter as larvae.
Go out on warm and sunny days.
Look on leaves and bushes in sunny exposed places. Parks and wildlife refuges with low plants are home for many species. If it is very hot and sunny, the caterpillars may be on the underside of the leaves.
Look for Ieaves with cut out sections on the sides of leaves. Look for leaves with frass on them. Frass is fine powdery waste material that can be seen after a caterpillar has been on a plant.
Look on the ground. You can sometimes see caterpillars wandering on the ground. A caterpillar on the ground is either looking for a food plant or a place to pupate.
Tips and warnings
- Bring a camera to take photos of the caterpillar. The photos will help you to identify the caterpillar and you can see what sort of butterfly or moth it will transform into later.
- Do not pick up a caterpillar with your hands. Use a stem or leaf.
- Caterpillars are delicate and some have urticating hairs or secretion that may irritate your skin.
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