Caterpillars are the larvae of members of the Lepidoptera family such as butterflies, moths and skippers. Many caterpillars are black, but most have visible pale to brightly coloured stripes, dots or spikes that help to identify them. Caterpillars that appear to be plain back have to be studied closely to identify them; distinguishing characteristics include location, food source, defensive behaviour, protrusions and markings that are only visible upon close examination.
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Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar
Though larvae of the giant leopard moth appear to be the solid black colour of patent leather, closer examination shows hidden bright red bands between segments. The caterpillar is covered with thick black bristles that shine in the sun, but unlike most hairy caterpillars, the giant leopard moth caterpillar is harmless. They seem to prefer Japanese honeysuckle as a food source but will eat other plants including plantain, violets, dandelions, cherry, maple and willow trees.
Tiger Moth Caterpillar
Woollybear caterpillars are the type of larvae that become tiger moths. They are called woollybear or fuzzybear caterpillars for the dense, bristly hair that covers their bodies. The best known is the banded woollybear, which is reddish brown in the centre with varying lengths of black at both ends that depend on the age and amount of moisture the caterpillar receives. There are eight other species of woollybears in the United States with a variety of colours and patterns, but some are plain black.
Black cutworms are wormlike caterpillars that vary in colour from light grey to black. Known for the way they cut off plants by severing them from the roots near the soil line, the plain black caterpillars are considered the most destructive. Some move from plant to plant while others stay to feed on the roots and stem of the plants that have already been cut. They target many field and garden plants including corn, tobacco, asparagus, potato, squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach, peanuts, cabbage and strawberries. Black cutworms feed from late March through June.
Douglas-Fir Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Many species of tussock moth caterpillars are capable of deforesting large areas of trees and shrubs. The Douglas fir tussock caterpillar is known to develop brightly coloured tufts of hair as they age, but many young larvae of this species are a solid black colour with black hairs and a black head. They have two tufts of black hair sprouting forward from the head and one tuft of black hair projecting from the rear. They eat the needles of Douglas fir, spruce and true fir trees from the top down.
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