Butterflies and moths add incredible color to nearly every part of the world. But many of us forget about what comes before the moth or butterfly. Caterpillars boast some of the most spectacular colors and patterns. Some of them even rival the brightest of butterflies!
List of Colorful Caterpillars
Here’s our list of the most colorful caterpillars in the world:
1. Wattle Cup Caterpillar
- Latin name: Calcarifera ordinata
- Habitat: Various habitat types in northern Australia
- Size: About 1.18″ long
- Diet: It mostly feeds on acacia (or wattle) leaves, although it also feeds on orange trees, dogwoods, and other species
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars have truly spectacular coloration. Their tops, backs, and sides are bright blue to turquoise and have orange markings. They also are marked with neon green or yellow, and they have spiky green, antenna-like protrusions.
You might think that bright caterpillars turn into bright butterflies or moths. But that isn’t the case with the wattle cup caterpillar. When it turns to a moth, it is a dull whitish color with brown markings. Don’t touch one if you see it: its sting has been described as being worse than three wasp stings!
2. Saddleback Caterpillar
- Latin name: Acharia stimulea
- Habitat: Various habitat types in eastern North America, although you can also find it in Mexico
- Size: Up to 0.8″ long
- Diet: Many plant types, although they prefer palms
- Colorful feature: These tiny caterpillars are among the most colorful on the list. They are usually bright green. The centers of their bodies have a dark brown dot ringed in white. The dot looks a lot like the saddle and is what the caterpillar is named for.
Though the saddleback caterpillar is relatively small, it certainly packs a colorful punch! But don’t be tempted to pick it up; its tiny spines secrete a venom that can cause an itchy rash, nausea, and sometimes more severe symptoms. This is another species that turns a very dull color in its final form. It becomes a nondescript brownish moth.
3. Brown-Hooded Owlet Caterpillar
- Latin name: Cucullia convexipennis
- Habitat: Various habitats across the eastern part of the United States and Canada
- Size: About 1″ long
- Diet: Usually feeds on low plants like asters and goldenrods
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are sometimes described as being calico-colored. They have a reddish underside with black and yellow patterned sides.
Most moths go from bright caterpillars to brown moths, and this one is no exception. Thankfully, they primarily feed on wildflowers, so they aren’t as much of a nuisance to gardeners. They’re a fun sight to see in the wild, as they are much brighter than many other woodland creatures, especially those typically found in North America. Their pattern is distinctive enough that they are pretty easy to identify even for newer explorers.
4. Lettuce Shark Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Cucullia lactucae
- Habitat: Most of Europe, though it also ranges east to the Palearctic
- Size: About 0.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly plants in the aster family
- Colorful feature: The lettuce shark moth caterpillar has a high-contrast pattern of black, white, and a bright dorsal stripe. Usually, the stripe is either yellow or orange. It has striking white marks that are horizontal on the body.
You might picture caterpillars feeding in lush, forested areas. However, these moths and their caterpillars are usually found in relatively barren areas. You can find them in areas covered by debris as well as in vineyards and shrubby areas. That being said, they will also feed in gardens if they can find them.
5. Skiff Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Prolimacodes badia
- Habitat: Various habitats in the eastern United States and Canada
- Size: About 0.5″ long
- Diet: Many different plants including blueberry bushes, oak trees, and poplar trees
- Colorful feature: This caterpillar is green with paler, leaf-like marking to help it camouflage. Some caterpillars are a mixture of dull brown and green. That way, predators will tend to think each caterpillar is a dying leaf as opposed to a potential meal.
The skiff moth is a member of the slug moth family. That means that its caterpillars look more like slugs than they do moths. To the uninitiated, they often look just like leaves. They have an oval shape that is somewhat domed, so they look a lot different from your typically long slender caterpillar.
6. Spiny Oak Slug Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Euclea delphinii
- Habitat: Various habitat types across much of North America
- Size: Up to 0.8″ long
- Diet: Several types of deciduous trees
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are always bright, although they do vary considerably in color. Many are leaf-green with two brightly-colored lines down the back. Their sides are covered in black-lined green “craters.”
This slug-like caterpillar isn’t just colorful. It also has an unusually spiny oval shape. Its sides are lined by green spiny protrusions. Each bright line down the back is topped with similarly-colored vertical spines. Like most other spiny caterpillars, it also releases venom. It is more harmful than most. Sometimes, it only causes mild itching and burning. But at other times reactions can be serious enough that the victim needs medical attention!
7. Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar
- Latin name: Citheronia regalis
- Habitat: Most habitat types across North America
- Size: Up to 6″ long
- Diet: Largely hickory, sweetgum, buttergum, and persimmon trees
- Colorful feature: These stunning pale green caterpillars are named for their bright orangish curved horns. Like most caterpillars, it goes through several forms. It starts out as a small yellowish larva and gradually morphs into this remarkably colorful, much larger form.
These caterpillars are certainly some of the most imposing on the list. However, they are much less scary than they appear! Their massive horns look intimidating, although they secrete no venom. If you run into one of these giant caterpillars, don’t be afraid to pick it up! It’s gentle and easy to handle. It turns into the regal moth, a large and beautiful striped and spotted moth.
8. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Hyalophora cecropia
- Habitat: Various habitat types across most of North America
- Size: About 4″ to 4.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly maple leaves, though they also feed on birch, cherry, and other tree species
- Colorful feature: In the fifth caterpillar life stage (or instar), these caterpillars are large and green. Their bodies are covered with bright blue and orangish protrusions. The ones across the top are especially striking, as they appear to be marked with black spikes.
This large caterpillar eventually becomes the largest native moth in North America. Like the hickory horned devil, its caterpillar stage is massive. Once it emerges as a moth, it has an impressive wingspan of 5″ to 7″. This moth species was also discovered fairly early on. Carl Linnaeus first described it in the year 1758.
9. Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
- Latin name: Papilio troilus
- Habitat: Various habitats across the eastern United States, especially where spicebush grows
- Size: About 0.75″ long
- Diet: Primarily spicebush plants, though they also feed on other plant species
- Colorful feature: In their last stage before spinning a cocoon, these caterpillars turn a bright green color similar to that of a green snake. Their most interesting feature might be the huge white-rimmed black spots on their head. They make it look like the caterpillar has eyes!
Interestingly enough, the caterpillars of this butterfly will turn different colors depending on the season. In summer, they will turn green to both camouflage with leaves and make predators think they’re green snakes. In winter, they will turn brown to camouflage with dead leaves and to fool predators into thinking they’re bird droppings.
10. Grass Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Acronicta rumicis
- Habitat: Various habitat types throughout the Palearctic region
- Size: About 1.6″ long
- Diet: Various low-growing plants like brambles, thistles, and sorrel, as well as on various fruit trees
- Colorful feature: These distinctive caterpillars are mostly blue in color, though they have complex black, orange, and white markings. They also have small tufts of hairs covering the body.
Though these caterpillars are pretty, they cause major issues as a crop pest. They have also been the subject of a good bit of research. And though they cause issues in many other countries, their population is actually in decline in the UK. They have been included in the UK’s Priority Biodiversity Action Plan in order to help preserve numbers and increase population size.
11. Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar
- Latin name: Battus philenor
- Habitat: Various habitats across North America and Central America
- Size: Up to about 2″ long
- Diet: Mostly pipevine plants
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars look somewhat sinister; they are mostly black with two long, horn-like protrusions at the top of the head. They also are marked with rows of bright orange spots. There is also a striking red variant of this caterpillar.
These interesting caterpillars have developed an unusual defense mechanism to protect them from birds. The plants they eat are high in aristolochic acids, and these acids accumulate within the caterpillars as well as in adults. Birds are the primary predators of this species, and the high acid concentration makes the caterpillars taste unappealing. It’s likely that the bright red-orange spots on the caterpillars also serve as a warning to would-be predators.
12. Sycamore Tussock Caterpillar
- Latin name: Halysidota harrisii
- Habitat: Various habitat types across southeastern Canada, the eastern United States, and northeastern Mexico
- Size: Between about 1″ and 1.4″ long
- Diet: Primarily the leaves of American sycamore trees
- Colorful feature: These unusual, fuzzy caterpillars have bright orangish heads. Their bodies have dense white or yellowish hairs with the hind end having two long white tufts.
These pretty caterpillars will sometimes cause damage to sycamore trees if they exist in high enough numbers. Luckily, though, their populations seem to be well-controlled by birds. They don’t cause serious reactions in people, but they will sometimes cause an unpleasant itching sensation.
13. Cinnabar Caterpillar
- Latin name: Tyria jacobaeae
- Habitat: Native to many habitat types in Europe and Asia, although it has been introduced in North America, Australia, and New Zealand
- Size: About 0.8″ to 1″ long
- Diet: Almost exclusively ragwort
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are especially colorful. Their entire bodies are banded in pale orange and black.
The cinnabar caterpillar is one of the relative few that turns into a brightly-colored moth. The cinnabar moth is colored in bright red and black. And while many caterpillars cause agricultural problems, this one is also an asset in some parts of the United States thanks to its ability to help control the ragwort plant.
14. Queen Butterfly Caterpillar
- Latin name: Danaus gilippus
- Habitat: Many habitat types where milkweed grows, especially in marshes, meadows, and fields throughout North America and South America
- Size: Around 1″ long
- Diet: Mostly milkweed plants
- Colorful feature: These especially striking caterpillars look as though they’ve been painted! They are white and banded with black and each black band has yellow spots. It also has three pairs of horn-like protrusions.
The queen butterfly caterpillar is one of the more striking caterpillars on our list. It bears some resemblance to the monarch and black swallowtail caterpillars. Similarly, some fully grown queen butterflies bear some resemblance to adult monarch butterflies.
15. Puss Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Cerura vinula
- Habitat: Mostly dense, forested areas in Europe, parts of Asia, and northern Africa
- Size: About 3.1″ long
- Diet: Mostly aspen, willow, and poplar trees
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are a striking bright green with a red-rimmed mouth. They also have colorful white tails with black bands and pink tips.
These unique caterpillars can look fairly scary when they take on a defensive pose. They will raise the red-marked part of the head while waving their two small tails. The tails have pinkish tips to help intimidate predators. If a predator does not heed the warning, the caterpillar will then spray it with formic acid.
16. Two-Tailed Pasha Caterpillar
- Latin name: Charaxes jasius
- Habitat: Various habitat types in parts of northern Africa, southern Europe, and the eastern Mediterranean
- Size: Up to 2″ long
- Diet: Mostly the strawberry tree though it will feed on other species
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are a very bright leafy green. They have whitish spots on the body as well as two yellow eyespots on the back.
If you look very closely, this caterpillar looks like a tiny dinosaur. That’s because its relatively flat-fronted head has four tiny horns that point toward the back. As you can see in the picture, some of these caterpillars have horns that are tipped in yellow, too.
17. Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Calliteara pudibunda
- Habitat: Beech forests in Europe and some surrounding areas
- Size: Between about 1.6″ and 1.8″
- Diet: Mostly beech tree foliage, though they also eat oak, willow, birch, and some other species
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars have two different morphs. One is the green morph. This one is bright yellow-green with a slender reddish tuft at the end. Its body is lined with several thick tufts of hair as well. The other morph is brown in color.
Though these caterpillars look fuzzy and cute, they are generally regarded as pests that can cause damage to beech forests. When they become moths, they turn significantly less colorful; as is the case with many moths on the list, they are a nondescript brown.
18. Gypsy Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Lymantria dispar
- Habitat: Various habitat types in many parts of Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and Europe
- Size: Up to 2″ long
- Diet: Many types of both deciduous and coniferous trees
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars have a bronze-like overall color marked with whitish-yellow lines. But their most striking feature is their two rows of jewel-like spots along the back. These spots start out blue closer to the head and gradually turn to orange.
You may have noticed that this species has a very large range. The highly adaptable gypsy moth is among the top 100 invasive species in the world. The genus name, Lymantria, translates to “destroyer.” Gypsy moths are particularly destructive because they reproduce rapidly and are not at all picky about food sources.
19. Yellow Woolly Bear Caterpillar
- Latin name: Spilosoma virginica
- Habitat: Various habitat types across temperate North America
- Size: Around 1″ long
- Diet: Various types of low-growing plants
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars vary considerably in color, though the brightest among them are bright yellow. It’s worth noting that each caterpillar is just a single color though. They don’t have multicolor patterning.
These often-bright caterpillars don’t necessarily turn into colorful moths. But they become a striking snowy white. These moths are called Virginian tiger moths. In their caterpillar stage, they will completely defoliate the leaves they eat, leaving only the skeletons. However, there are rarely enough caterpillars feeding at the same time to cause serious damage.
20. Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
- Latin name: Papilio polyxenes
- Habitat: Mostly open areas from southern Canada to South America
- Size: About 2″ long
- Diet: Mostly parsley
- Colorful feature: These pudgy caterpillars have a base color of leafy green. Each section has a black and yellow band traversing it.
Swallowtail butterflies are some of the most beautiful butterflies, and their caterpillars are very striking too. You might hear the caterpillars called “parsley worms” because they feed almost exclusively on parsley. They have a couple of interesting defense mechanisms as well. They absorb toxins from plants they eat so they will taste unpleasant to birds. They also can release foul-smelling liquid to repel would-be predators.
21. Banded Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar
- Latin name: Papilio demolion
- Habitat: Various relatively uninhabited areas in Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand
- Size: About 1″ to 1.14″ long
- Diet: Mainly various types of citrus plants
- Colorful feature: These colorful caterpillars are green with bright turquoise blotches across their bodies. They only look like this in their fourth and final instar.
Many swallowtail butterflies can be found in North America. But the exquisite banded swallowtail is a tropical version that looks a lot different. It’s mostly black when it becomes a butterfly. However, it has a broad band across the wings. The band is whitish or pale green.
22. Color Sergeant Butterfly Caterpillar
- Latin name: Athyma nefte
- Habitat: Tropical areas of southern Asia and Southeast Asia
- Size: About 1″ long
- Diet: Primarily different species of leafflower trees (also called buttonwood or cheese trees)
- Colorful feature: This bright caterpillar looks almost alien. Its body is green somewhere between the color of moss and leaves. It is covered in reddish protrusions, each of which bears a small thorny crown.
Though this caterpillar is colorful, its color scheme is radically different from that of its final form. The male color sergeant butterfly has a black base color with orange patterning around the wings. It also has whitish markings across much of the body. Females are banded with a faded orange shade and black.
23. Common Nawab Caterpillar
- Latin name: Polyura athamas
- Habitat: Forest canopies in tropical parts of Asia
- Size: About 1″ to 1.5″ long
- Diet: Primarily plants in the legume family
- Colorful feature: This segmented caterpillar is one of the many on the list that has striking high-contrast patterning. The body is a shade of dark green that seems to blend into most foliage. It has three yellowish-white chevron markings going down the back.
This beautiful caterpillar is another with an imposing headdress of four horns. Its segmented body and chevron markings help it to blend in seamlessly with the forest canopy it lives in. As an adult, the common nawab is especially beautiful. The name comes from the word for rulers during the Mogul empire.
24. Golden Emperor Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Loepa katinka
- Habitat: Various habitat types in South Asia and Southeast Asia
- Size: About 1.2″ long
- Diet: Mostly mulberry leaves
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are deep brown with yellow-white triangles along the sides. They have lines of red or metallic raised spots along the back.
As the name suggests, this is another caterpillar that turns into an especially regal adult. The golden emperor butterfly is bright yellow with slender zigzag lines and four eyespots. It is an especially useful moth too, as it is used in the production of silk. They have been used for this purpose since the year 2700 BC!
25. Smeared Dagger Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Acronicta oblinita
- Habitat: Many different habitat types across much of North America
- Size: About 1″ long or less
- Diet: Many different types of trees, shrubs, herbs, and grasses
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars boast a stunning high-contrast pattern. They have a blackish base color and are covered in intricate yellow patterning. Their clusters of red spines add a burst of yet another color!
Though the red spines of this moth make it really eye-catching, make sure you don’t touch them! The spines aren’t likely to cause severe problems in humans, but they have been known to cause itchy skin reactions. You may also have noticed that this caterpillar has quite a large range. That can be partially explained by its ability to feed on an impressive range of food plants. These include grasses, something that very few moths and butterflies feed on.
26. Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth
- Latin name: Lophocampa argentata
- Habitat: Many habitat types across western North America
- Size: About 1.5″ long
- Diet: Many different plants, especially the Douglas fir
- Colorful feature: These fuzzy caterpillars are covered in unique red and black coloring. They have a set of two black tufts on each side of the body as well as several clusters of reddish-yellow spiny hairs.
These caterpillars are a species that is known to defoliate its host plants. Thankfully, caterpillars seem to only feed on selected trees in any given forest, so the damage isn’t widespread. It also doesn’t cause any permanent harm to the trees; the damage is purely cosmetic. Most experts don’t recommend using pesticides to control the population, as the cosmetic damage usually will only last a short period of time.
27. Promethea Giant Silk Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Callosamia promethea
- Habitat: Forested areas across the eastern United States
- Size: Up to about 2.4″ long
- Diet: Many different host plants including spicebush, sassafras, and tulip trees
- Colorful feature: These large, pale green caterpillars have some of the most striking protuberances on the list. In their final stage before spinning cocoons, they have four red protuberances on the head and a single yellow one at the tail. Their bodies also have several lines of small eye-like spots.
As we’ve seen thus far, the caterpillars of the silk moth species tend to be especially beautiful. As adults, they rely on mimicry to protect themselves from predators. They look a lot like the pipevine swallowtail, a species that is poisonous to predators.
28. Io Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Automeris io
- Habitat: Forests in many parts of North America
- Size: Up to about 2.8″ long
- Diet: Many different host plants, including maple, redbud, balsam fir, beech, and ash
- Colorful feature: In its final stage, this caterpillar is bright green with spines covering the body. Each side has two thin stripes: one is red and the other is white.
The caterpillar of the Io moth is one of many that can cause an unpleasant skin reaction in humans. Experts don’t know exactly how this caterpillar produces its venom. It isn’t highly toxic to humans, although it can cause skin irritation and a stinging sensation. The caterpillar becomes a large and fairly colorful moth; males are yellow and females are brown. Both have a large eyespot on each hindwing.
29. Mourning Cloak Butterfly Caterpillar
- Latin name: Nymphalis antiopa
- Habitat: Various habitat types in North America and Eurasia
- Size: Up to 2″ long
- Diet: Many different host plants including the American elm, wild rose, hackberry, and poplar
- Colorful feature: The caterpillars of this butterfly are especially striking. Their bodies are black with a dorsal line of large reddish-orange spots. The rest of the body is covered in white dots.
The mourning cloak butterfly’s colorful caterpillar turns to a colorful butterfly as well. The butterfly’s wings appear to be “cloaked” in black or near black. They are lined with bright yellow and lines of blue spots. In Britain, you might hear this species described as the Camberwell beauty.
30. Common Archduke Caterpillar
- Latin name: Lexias pardalis
- Habitat: Paths, forest edges, and clearings in south Asia and Southeast Asia
- Size: Up to 1.8″ long
- Diet: Mostly plants in the Cratoxylum genus
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are highly distinctive. They are green with long, delicate protrusions. These protrusions have hints of blue and orange, too.
This regally-named species includes a beautiful caterpillar and a beautiful butterfly. Adult males and females are both colorful in very different ways. Females are black with intricate yellowish-white patterning, while males are largely black with gray and bright blue on the hindwings.
31. Milkweed Tiger Moth Caterpillars
- Latin name: Euchaetes egle
- Habitat: Various habitat types from southern Canada to the southern United States
- Size: Up to 1.4″ long
- Diet: Primarily milkweed and dogbane
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are some of the most noticeable on the list. They have a black base color with bright tufts of hair. These tufts can be orange, black, white, and/or yellow.
The adult versions of these caterpillars have a very unusual way of protecting themselves. Since bats are some of their natural predators, milkweed tiger moths are able to communicate via ultrasonic clicks that they are not edible. If a bat does eat one of these moths, it will be hit with the highly unpleasant effects of cardiac glycosides that the moth gets from the plants it eats. Cardiac glycosides will cause a decrease in the rate of heart contractions while increasing its overall output.
32. Large Tree Nymph Caterpillar
- Latin name: Idea leuconoe
- Habitat: Wooded areas in Southeast Asia, southern Taiwan, and Northern Australia
- Size: Around 1″ long
- Diet: Mostly woody vines in the Parsonsia genus
- Colorful feature: These alien-looking caterpillars are among the prettiest on the list! They look almost like zebras with their black-banded white bodies. They are marked with a few fluorescent-looking pink spots. They also have several spindly upright black spines.
This is one of the few butterflies that looks somewhat similar to its caterpillar form. The adult butterfly has papery silvery white wings that are lined and spotted with black. They look a little like stained glass windows. In many cases, the wings have a goldish glow toward the center.
33. Forest Tent Caterpillar
- Latin name: Malacosoma disstria
- Habitat: Wooded areas of much of North America especially in the eastern part
- Size: About 2″ long
- Diet: Many types of deciduous trees
- Colorful feature: Though these caterpillars are certainly destructive, they’re quite colorful! They look a little like gypsy moth caterpillars in that they have golden-bronze bodies with bright blue stripes on the side. Their backs are lined with intricate patterns of white, black, and blue.
Though they are called “forest tent caterpillars,” these caterpillars do not actually make tents in trees. Instead, they weave little silk hammocks where they gather to molt. In spring they can become a major problem. With so many caterpillars feeding at once, this species can completely defoliate host trees.
34. Pandorus Sphinx Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Eumorpha pandorus
- Habitat: Various habitat types across eastern, southeastern and central North America
- Size: Up to 3.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly grape vines and Virginia creeper
- Colorful feature: These high-contrast caterpillars are among the most intriguing on the list. They are deep chestnut brown with bright white eyespots lined in black. Between the black outlines and the small spots in the middle, they look like cartoon eyes!
The caterpillars of this large moth are striking but so is the moth itself! Males have distinctive greenish-brown patterning with a rosy hue at the edge of the wings. As you likely saw above, these are some of the longest caterpillars on the list. They become very large moths, too; their average wingspan is roughly 3.5″ to 4.5″.
35. Maplet Butterfly Caterpillar
- Latin name: Chersonesia risa
- Habitat: Various habitat types across Southeast Asia
- Size: Up to about 1″ long
- Diet: Various types of foliage depending on location
- Colorful feature: This stunning caterpillar is bright yellow with black spots and a few horn-like black protrusions. Its yellow body’s shade blends from dark brownish yellow to pale yellow green.
Though these caterpillars are especially bright, the adult butterfly is markedly different in color. It is bright orange with black-lined stripes down the wings. With its unusual wing structure, it looks like it has a definitive split between the wings. There are three different subspecies, each of which has a separate geographic range.
36. Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar
- Latin name: Agraulis vanillae
- Habitat: Most parts of the American South, especially Florida and Texas
- Size: About 1″ or less
- Diet: Various species of passionflower
- Colorful feature: This distinctive caterpillar looks somewhat metallic. They are pewter-colored with two bright orange stripes down the back. They also have spiny black protrusions reaching upward and to the sides.
You might sometimes hear this species referred to as the passion butterfly. And though it’s beautiful, it can sometimes be highly unpleasant. When it sees a predator, it can release some very foul-smelling chemicals to protect itself. However, the gulf fritillary is lovely enough to be included in many different butterfly gardens across the United States.
37. Abbott’s Sphinx Caterpillar
- Latin name: Sphecodina abbottii
- Habitat: Various parts of eastern North America
- Size: Up to about 3″ long
- Diet: Primarily grapes
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars have an incredibly mesmerizing eyespot on top of their heads. The eyespot looks like it is swirled with black and gold. It also has a very colorful body; the base color is a wood-like brown, and it has soft mint-green patches across the back.
The Abbot’s sphinx moth is fairly large, so it makes sense that its caterpillar would be large too. That being said, the moth form is significantly less colorful than the caterpillar. Adult sphinx moths are an unusual rough blackish color with a few yellowish accents.
38. The White-Marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Orgyia leucostigma
- Habitat: Various habitats across eastern North America
- Size: Up to about 1.4″ long
- Diet: Many different deciduous and coniferous trees
- Colorful feature: These are some of the brightest caterpillars on the list. They have reddish heads and a few reddish spots, and their bodies are primarily yellow or white. As you can see in the picture, they have a few dense clusters of yellow (or white) hairs at the top of the body.
These little caterpillars are bright and might look soft to touch. But it’s best to avoid that, as simply touching their hairs will give most people an allergic reaction. Some experts believe that it has evolved the white or yellow tufts to deter predators. The tufts look a lot like the cocoons used by parasitic wasps.
39. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar
- Latin name: Euptoieta claudia
- Habitat: Mostly open areas in North America and South America
- Size: Up to 2″ long
- Diet: Passionflower plants, flax, Arizona swallow-wort, violets, and other host plants
- Colorful feature: Like some other fritillary species, this caterpillar has a distinctive appearance that looks metallic. Its body is glossy red with whitish-yellow stripes lined in black. It is also covered with intimidating-looking black spikes.
Though the variegated fritillary is spectacular in caterpillar form, it isn’t quite so interesting as an adult. It has a mesmerizing orange pattern with black lines and spots. However, the undersides of its wings are dull brown. However, it has one of the most beautiful chrysalis colorations. The chrysalis is iridescent white with many gold protuberances.
40. Striped Blue Crow Butterfly Caterpillar
- Latin name: Euploea mulciber
- Habitat: Various habitat types across India and Southeast Asia
- Size: Around 1″ long
- Diet: Mostly various types of plants that secrete latex
- Colorful feature: These exquisite caterpillars have a golden yellow base color. The tops of the backs and the sides are lined with alternating bands of white and brown. But its slender purple protuberances might be the most interesting of all. They are brownish purple and usually curl at the ends.
Though its name might be confusing, the striped blue crow is indeed a butterfly. It is spectacular when seen in person. Both sexes have a splash of iridescent blue on each forewing, while the remainder of the blackish body is patterned. The patterning on the female is especially striking, as it’s made of zebra-like white stripes.
41. American Dagger Caterpillar
- Latin name: Acronicta americana
- Habitat: Various North American habitats east of the rocky mountains
- Size: Up to 2″ long
- Diet: Includes many host plants including maples, birch, alder, horse chestnut, redbud, ash, alder, and sycamore
- Colorful feature: These cute caterpillars are bright yellow (sometimes white) and covered in hair. However, they have three dagger-like spikes reaching upward from the back.
This is one of the many moths on the list whose moth form is fairly nondescript. And while the caterpillars themselves look fuzzy and inviting, be aware: they can cause some level of skin irritation in humans. That being said, research has not indicated that they produce any kind of venom.
42. Azalea Caterpillar
- Latin name: Datana major
- Habitat: Various habitats across the southeastern United States
- Size: About 0.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly plants in the Rhododendron genus and bog-rosemary plants
- Colorful feature: These odd-looking caterpillars are reminiscent of painted wood. That might be because both the heads and tails are capped in a mahogany color. Their bodies have an attractive pattern of earth-toned yellow and green.
Though these caterpillars are certainly pretty, they can cause some major issues for gardeners. After all, plants in the Rhododendron genus, including azaleas, are popular garden plants. Larger caterpillars can be very destructive, as they can eat the entire leaf as opposed to just skeletonizing it.
43. Spurge Hawk-Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Hyles euphorbiae
- Habitat: Various habitat types across Europe, though it has also been introduced to several areas in the United States for weed control
- Size: Up to about 4″ long
- Diet: Primarily leafy spurge
- Colorful feature: The spurge hawk-moth is another species whose caterpillars appear to be painted. The base color is black. On the lower part of each side is an orangish-yellow stripe. Much of the body is marked in whitish spots of varying sizes. But the most noticeable color feature just might be the red feet, head, tail, and single spike.
This moth is especially useful, as it is often used to control the populations of leafy spurge. Leafy spurge is an invasive species in Europe considered to be a “noxious weed,” meaning that it poses harm to crops. The spurge hawk-moth has also been introduced in other parts of the world to help with weed control.
44. Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillar
- Latin name: Manduca sexta
- Habitat: Most habitat types across the Americas
- Size: Up to about 2.8″ long
- Diet: Though they can survive on any host plant, they prefer tobacco and tomatoes
- Colorful feature: These striking worms are primarily green, but they have a very interesting pattern of stripes! Each one has several diagonal white bands that set them apart from other caterpillars.
If you have ever had a pet lizard, you might recognize this caterpillar! Hornworms are often used as treats for lizards and other pet reptiles. But when it feeds on tobacco in the wild, it is able to use the natural nicotine to defend itself against predators. When a predator like a spider is near, the tobacco hornworm is able to release nicotine vapors to scare it away.
45. Giant Peacock Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Saturnia pyri
- Habitat: Various habitat types across Europe
- Size: Up to about 5″ long
- Diet: Many different fruit trees and ornamental plants
- Colorful feature: From a distance, these caterpillars might look nondescript. But when you get up close, they look especially bright. Their bodies are green and covered with jewel-like blue protuberances.
This is easily one of the largest and most striking caterpillars on the list. It also turns to an especially large and striking moth. When fully grown, the giant peacock moth has a wingspan of up to 8.” An adult peacock moth was once painted by Vincent van Gogh!
46. Oleander Caterpillar
- Latin name: Syntomeida epilais
- Habitat: Almost anywhere that oleander plants can be found, especially in neotropical regions and the United States
- Size: Up to about 1.5″ long
- Diet: Mostly oleander leaves, though it has been observed feeding on other host plants
- Colorful feature: Like the moth it turns into, this caterpillar also has polka dots! It is a reddish-orange color just like that of a ladybug. The body is covered in black spots, and it has several black tufts extending out from the sides.
The oleander caterpillar becomes one of the strangest moths on the list. Its adult form is often called the polka-dot wasp moth, as it mimics a wasp to protect itself.
47. Yellow Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Lophocampa maculata
- Habitat: Various habitat types throughout Canada and the western to central United States
- Size: About 0.8″ long
- Diet: Mostly poplar and willow, though they also feed on various other tree species
- Colorful feature: This bumblebee-like caterpillar is one of the most interesting on the list. Its midsection is fuzzy and yellow. The front and back portions are black and fuzzy with whitish tufts extending outward.
This moth is more properly classified as a tiger moth. The name “tussock moth” refers to the tufts of hair it has as a caterpillar. A “tussock” is a clump of green grass, and it looks a lot like the tufts of hair extending from this caterpillar.
48. Luna Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Actias luna
- Habitat: Various habitat types across most of North America
- Size: About 2.8″ to 3.5″ long
- Diet: Various types of broadleaf trees
- Colorful feature: These bright green caterpillars have striking orange nodules distributed neatly over the body. Each one has a few delicate white hairs.
Just about anyone can tell you what a luna moth looks like. But not everyone can describe the caterpillar! Though the luna moth caterpillar stands out thanks to its bright color, it’s also unique in its ridged appearance.
49. Zebra Longwing Caterpillar
- Latin name: Heliconius charithonia
- Habitat: Various habitats across much of Central America and South America, though it’s sometimes found in the southern United States
- Size: Between 1.5″ and 1.75″ long
- Diet: Various passionflower plants
- Colorful feature: Mature caterpillars are black and white like the final butterfly form. Their bodies are primarily white with several slender black spikes poking through.
Once they become butterflies, these caterpillars have an unusually long lifespan. In the wild, they live up to three months. Their lifetime in the lab is even longer, as they can live between 4 and 5 months. Though the caterpillars feed on passionflower plants, they are able to avoid the toxic plant parts by spinning silk over them or simply biting them off.
50. Monarch Caterpillar
- Latin name: Danaus plexippus
- Habitat: Many habitat types across North America through northern South America, as well as Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and parts of Europe
- Size: Up to about 2″ long
- Diet: Primarily milkweed plants, though they will use other host plants too
- Colorful feature: These striking, banded caterpillars are some of the brightest on the list. Their bodies are banded with yellow, black, and white.
The monarch is probably one of the most famous butterflies in the world. It’s especially famous for migrating in huge numbers. It also is known as being a fantastic pollinator of other plants. Oddly enough, though its host plant is usually milkweed, it isn’t a great milkweed pollinator.
51. Blue-Striped Nettle Grub
- Latin name: Parasa lepida
- Habitat: Various habitat types in the Indo-Malayan region
- Size: Usually between 1.2″ and 1.6″ long
- Diet: Various tropical plants, many of which are commercial crops like pineapple, cocoa, mango, and rice
- Colorful feature: True to the name, these caterpillars have a thick blue dorsal stripe. Their bodies are leafy green and covered with clusters of spines, some of which are tipped in orange.
These cute grubs turn into moths that actually have some green, too. The adult version is dull brown with a fuzzy green head and green wing band.
52. Yellow-Shouldered Slug Moth Caterpillar
- Latin name: Lithacodes fasciola
- Habitat: Wooded parts across much of North America
- Size: Up to 0.6″ long
- Diet: Many different types of deciduous plants
- Colorful feature: These caterpillars are bright green, though their shape makes them most distinctive. They have a dome-like shape similar to that of a discoid roach.
This is one of the few species on the list that doesn’t look much like a caterpillar at all! The domed body is lined with several crater-like spots, making it look a bit like a very tiny turtle shell. While it has legs like all caterpillars do, its legs are very short.
53. Curve-Lined Owlet Caterpillar
- Latin name: Phyprosopus callitrichoides
- Habitat: Most areas of the United States where greenbrier is present
- Size: Up to about 1.4″ long
- Diet: Mostly various species of greenbrier
- Colorful feature: Some sources describe these caterpillars as being “fantastically bizarre.” They often don’t look like caterpillars at all; their bodies are brownish with white marking, but they are twisted with several protuberances that make them look more like a twig than an animal.
Last on the list is one of the world’s weirdest caterpillars. Although its larval stage is truly bizarre, its adult form is remarkably ordinary. Though you might think the “curve-lined” part of the name references the caterpillar’s shape, it refers to the curved lines on the wings of the moth itself.
Nature’s Most Colorful Caterpillars
One of the best things about colorful caterpillars is that you don’t need to go to a zoo or travel far to see them. If you look closely, you just might spot one in your own backyard!