15 Types of Caterpillars in Arizona

Types of Caterpillars in Arizona
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How many types of caterpillars are in Arizona? The answer depends on how broadly you define types of caterpillars in Arizona.

There are thousands of caterpillars in the United States alone! However, using an inclusive definition of caterpillar, the answer becomes clear. 

For example, some say butterflies are enormous and brightly colored caterpillars! There are also moth caterpillars and silkworm caterpillars, and many other exciting types of caterpillars in Arizona.

Let’s look at the classes you’re likely to find in Arizona.

1. Cabbage Looper

The cabbage looper is the most common type of caterpillar in Arizona. These types of caterpillars in Arizona are light green and brown with a darker green spot on their back and are about two inches long when fully grown.

They have a wingspan that can reach up to three inches wide, but since they do not have hind legs, they cannot fly. 

The cabbage looper eats mainly vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. They are also known for eating foliage from trees like the ash tree, elm tree, and apple tree. One type of butterfly that looks similar to the cabbage looper is the viceroy butterfly. 

The larvae stage lasts anywhere from 1-3 weeks before it goes into the pupae stage, where it remains inactive until it turns into an adult butterfly (about three weeks).

The adult butterflies then go on to lay eggs which hatch into another generation of cabbage loopers which will begin their life cycle again.

2. Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar

The Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar is quite a giant caterpillar with a brown body covered in white hair.

These types of caterpillars in Arizona can grow to be more than two inches long and are considered one of the most toxic in the United States.  

Their sting can cause extreme discomfort, including itching, swelling, redness, pain, and numbness; symptoms usually disappear within a day or two.

In addition, some people have allergic reactions that could lead to difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis (shock). 

You should seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms after contact with this caterpillar!

Unfortunately, the only way to protect against these types of moths is to use a good pest control company that will apply residual sprays at your property so that the pests cannot enter your home through small openings in your foundation.

3. White-Lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

The White-lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar is a beautiful green caterpillar with white lines on its back. A small, black horn on the caterpillar’s head distinguishes it from other sphinx moth caterpillars.

The horns are harmless, and the caterpillar will use them to defend itself if threatened. 

These types of caterpillars in Arizona feed on cacti, oak leaves, and elm trees. The White-Lined Sphinx Moth has a wing span of one and a half to two inches.

It is dark brown with white transverse lines on its body and wings, which resemble those of a hawk moth. 

It also features a small, black horn near its tail end. This caterpillar feeds on cacti, oak leaves, elm trees, and other hardwood trees. The female moth lays her eggs directly onto host plants for hatching larvae.

4. Silver-Spotted Skipper Caterpillar

The Silver-Spotted Skipper Caterpillar is the most commonly seen type of caterpillar in Arizona and can be found throughout the state.

These types of caterpillars in Arizona are usually brown or yellowish-tan with a white or silver stripe down their back. They have a white head and will grow to be about 4 inches long when fully grown. 

The Silver-Spotted Skipper Caterpillar feeds on flowers (like cottonwood) and other types of plants, as well as leaves, stems, and roots.

They will eat many different types of greenery but prefer to stay close to water sources if possible. This type of caterpillar is a moth that goes through a complete metamorphosis during its lifecycle. 

It has two types of larvae; the first type starts as a pale green caterpillar before turning into an adult butterfly.

The second type begins life as a dark-colored caterpillar before turning into an inchworm pupa and eventually becoming an adult moth.

The Silver-Spotted Skipper Caterpillar has no significant predators because it spends so much time in trees, making them difficult for birds to find.

5. Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar

The Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar is one of Arizona’s most recognizable types of caterpillars. This type gets its name from its black and yellow striped pattern on its back.

When they mature, they are about 4 inches long with a 3-inch wingspan, so you often see them flying around your garden. 

These types of caterpillars in Arizona eat plants but prefer nectar plants like dandelion, carrot, or parsley. Unfortunately, these caterpillars have been known to be a pest for farmers because they learn to eat alfalfa and cotton crops.

It’s hard to control their numbers because their larvae can live up to 2 years without eating anything. 

They pupate into giant moths that fly during the summer months. It only takes 7-14 days before the adult moth emerges from pupation, and mating happens shortly after this occurs. 

The female then lays her eggs which hatch after 10-20 days, depending on weather conditions. If conditions are not ideal for the survival of these young ones, such as a lack of food sources, many do not survive after hatching.

6. Viceroy Caterpillar

The Viceroy Caterpillar is a type of butterfly found in the Sonoran Desert. These types of caterpillars in Arizona are usually black with yellow stripes on their body and red spots on their head.

They are one of the few types that can be seen flying because they have wings, unlike most caterpillars. 

The Viceroy Caterpillar spends its time eating leaves, flowers, and other plants. Sometimes they will even eat other caterpillars’ food sources if they can’t find enough to eat themselves.

One day, the viceroy caterpillar will stop being a caterpillar and become an adult monarch butterfly! 

But it has to go through a metamorphosis first. Then, when it feels like it’s about ready for this significant change, the caterpillar will build a cocoon around itself using silk from its mouth and transform into a unique new creature.

In only two weeks, the cocoon turns into a beautiful orange-and-black butterfly that starts life all over again as a caterpillar and repeats this process over and over again until it’s finally ready to become an adult.

7. Black Swallowtail

The Black Swallowtail is primarily black, with a yellow spot on each hind wing. However, there are four other colors that the Black Swallowtail can be.

These four colors are orange and black, the most common; green and black; brownish-orange and black; and dark red-brown with a cream wing border. 

Caterpillars of this butterfly will feed on passion vines. The Black Swallowtail caterpillar has been observed to eat at least 14 different types of plants.

These types of caterpillars in Arizona eat from both leaves and stems. Most swallowtails have long, thin tongues that probe crevices for sap or nectar, although some species have brushlike languages.

Some use their jaws to collect pollen from flowers for an energy-rich source of food (Hixson 1998).

8. Monarch Caterpillar

The Monarch Caterpillar is found throughout the United States and Canada, but its population has declined over recent years.

Monarchs are known for their orange and black wings, which can also be brown or black. The caterpillar’s colors reflect the milkweed plant on which it feeds.

Monarchs can be found yearly, but you’re most likely to spot them from March through September as they migrate from Mexico to Canada and back again.

You might see a monarch migration if you live near trees in an open space with many butterflies. 

Monarchs do not overwinter anywhere but instead head south to warmer climates during winter and return north in springtime.

These giant insects measure about 3 inches long when fully grown, with a small round body covered in dense hairs and a rounded dome-shaped head topped by a tuft of bright yellow fuzz.

9. Banded Woolly Bear Caterpillar

The Banded Woolly Bear Caterpillar is a type of fuzzy caterpillar that is black and white with orange stripes. They are about 2 inches long and have long hairs that can cause itching if touched.

These types of caterpillars in Arizona will stay on the tree for most of their life, but in the end, they will pupate or change into a butterfly. 

You can find them from April-June and again from September-October. I recommend wearing gloves to handle these guys because they like to curl up, and sometimes you won’t feel the hair until it’s too late. The Banded Woolly Bear is mainly found in Northern Arizona. 

The caterpillar will stay on trees, but they are not exclusive to trees and can also be seen on shrubs, grasses, and other plants.

The caterpillar will most likely be found in August-October because that is when it transforms into a butterfly.

10. Yellownecked Caterpillar

The yellow-necked caterpillar is a tiny, green caterpillar with a tuft of white hair on its head. They’re often found crawling around on low-growing plants but can also be found on the ground.

The best way to identify this caterpillar is by looking for the white tufts of hair on its head. 

Adults are usually gray moths with a wingspan that reaches about 3 cm and black and yellow stripes across their backs.

Caterpillars can be distinguished from other types because they have one pair of prolegs per body segment rather than two. 

They also have ten pairs of spiracles (breathing holes) along their bodies that help them breathe while they eat and grow.

Unfortunately, these types of caterpillars in Arizona will only live for three to four weeks and don’t overwinter well. So if you find any during the winter, chances are they’re not going to make it until spring.

11. Two-Tailed Swallowtail Caterpillar

The Two-Tailed Swallowtail Caterpillar is a type of butterfly that has green and yellow stripes on its body.

If you see these types of caterpillars in Arizona, there are nearby flowers for the butterfly to feed on, and the butterfly can be seen between May and September. 

The larvae of the Two-Tailed Swallowtail Caterpillar are orange with a dark spot at one end. This bright orange color comes from eating flowers like ironweed or thistle.

The larvae will eat these plants as they climb stalks to reach more blossoms. The caterpillar pupates into an adult at the top of vegetation, where he feels secure from birds.

When threatened, the larva will drop down out of sight or stick his head out from under leaves, if not too high off the ground, and curl up his tail to protect against large animals or humans who might step on him by accident.

12. Common Buckeye Caterpillar

The Common Buckeye Caterpillar is a beautiful creature that is easily identifiable due to its bright blue-green body with a redhead.

They typically feed on leaves from the large oak trees throughout the state. The caterpillar will build a cocoon from which it will emerge as an adult moth or butterfly. 

These moths are considered pests because they eat foliage and can destroy trees. However, most people find them attractive, so if you see one, you might want to enjoy their beauty instead of worrying about how much damage they’re doing. 

13. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

The Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar is a small, pale yellow and green caterpillar with red lines on its back that is broken into spots. Its head is dark brown. It will grow to about 2 inches long. It’s seen between July and September.

The variegated fritillary caterpillar prefers tobacco plants and tomato leaves but eats other plants like foxglove, lilac, oak trees, and sweet alyssum flowers.

These types of caterpillars in Arizona are usually found in gardens or fields where these plants grow together in large numbers. 

They don’t do much damage because they mostly eat plant foliage. They only cause problems when feeding young tomato plants because they can stunt their growth.

Variegated fritillary caterpillars pupate in the soil near the base of host plants during late summer and early fall, after which adults emerge about one week later.

14. Crowned Slug Caterpillar

The Crowned Slug Caterpillar is a type of caterpillar you can find in the state. These types of caterpillars in Arizona are black or brown with yellow or red lines. They grow up to four inches long and make a loud hissing sound when disturbed. 

The caterpillar is toxic, but it’s okay to handle them if you wear gloves because they have no stinging hair, and their skin doesn’t come off your hands.

If you get bitten by one, don’t scrub the bite area, as this will cause an allergic reaction; use ice packs instead.

15. Tobacco Hornworm

The Tobacco Hornworm is a smooth, green caterpillar with a long, thick body. They are often found eating tomatoes and tobacco plants.

Tobacco Hornworms are common throughout the United States and feed on many different types of plants. 

These types of caterpillars in Arizona are usually easy to identify because they have black markings resembling a horn’s shape. They will go through six instars before reaching adulthood.

During their life cycle, Tobacco Hornworms can grow four inches long! After completing six instars, the adult Tobacco Hornworm will find a place near food sources where it will pupate and eventually emerge as an adult moth.


Arizona has a diverse range of caterpillars. Here are the types of caterpillars in Arizona you may come across while in the state.

If you find one not on this list, please get in touch with us to add it! Most caterpillars feed on a single plant, and you can use that knowledge to control pest infestation in your garden. 

Preventing caterpillar infestations is best achieved by discouraging egg-laying on your plants or removing eggs before they hatch.

In the pupal stage, many caterpillar species are gregarious and will seek shelter among one another. Some species’ chrysalis (cocoon) is complex; in others, it’s soft. Moths have a prominent proboscis (tongue) for sucking nectar from flowers.

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