19 Types of Caterpillars in Michigan

types of caterpillars in michigan
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It’s springtime in Michigan, which means the abundance of butterflies and caterpillars is starting to come out in full force! But how many types of caterpillars are there in Michigan?

Whether you’re a student studying the wildlife of your home state or want to identify all the different caterpillars you see as you walk through the woods, this list will help you discover all 19 types of caterpillars in Michigan! So are you ready to spot them all?

1. Monarch Caterpillar

The Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) is a popular butterfly that can be spotted throughout North America.

The voracious eater has been munching on dandelions, clover, poison ivy, thistles, and corn as it grows to about 2 inches long before spinning a chrysalis for two weeks. 

These types of caterpillars in Michigan Adults can often drink nectar from flowers and butterflies like Celery Whites, Cloudless Sulphurs, and Gulf Fritillaries. Its bright orange and black wings have white spots along with thick tufts near their ends.

2. Cabbageworm

The cabbageworm (Mamestra brassicae) is a butterfly/moth caterpillar, often eating cabbage, broccoli, and other related greens.

These types of caterpillars in Michigan got their names from their habit of curling into a leaf when disturbed. The cabbageworm is white, with black spots and yellow lines running down its body. 

Although it’s not destructive, it sometimes proves problematic because it attacks young plants before they reach maturity.

However, it also makes for an excellent indicator for farmers, who can use its presence as an early warning sign that something might be wrong with their crop.

3. Woolly Bear

caterpillars (or Isabella Tiger Moths) are one of my favorite types of caterpillars in Michigan. Their fuzzy, woolly appearance reminds me a little bit of a Polar Bear or even a fuzzy brown dog toy.

Woolly Bears are easy to identify thanks to their white-tipped black hairs and black horns sticking out from their head.

4. Viceroy Caterpillar

The Viceroy is named for its likeness to a member of British royalty; it’s also called The Monarch-like or Monarch-mimic.

The bright red coloration makes it easy to find; however, you won’t want to touch them. Viceroy caterpillars have barbed hairs that can cause pain if they come into contact with skin and are capable of stinging. 

Despite their name, these cute little critters are not at all poisonous. On the contrary, monarch butterflies prefer their host plants (milkweed) more than other plants in their habitat because chemicals such as cardiac glycosides in milkweed protect monarchs from predators by making them bitter tasting and poisonous.

5. Large Maple Spanworm

The large maple spanworm is a moth-like species of caterpillar that looks like something out of a horror movie.

With bright colors, spiky horns, and barbs all over its body, it’s not hard to see why many people have mistaken them for actual venomous snakes!  

With black and yellow stripes on their heads and bodies, these creatures can grow up to three inches long, making them some of the largest types of caterpillars in Michigan.

Like most types of caterpillars in Michigan, they lay eggs on certain plants like oak leaves and beech trees.

6. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

The Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar is a butterfly with a bright orange head and black stripes. These types of caterpillars in Michigan are also known as Hypenids.

Their diet consists mainly of various types of plants like Verbascum blattaria, Cirsium arvense, Malva neglecta, Galega officinalis, and others. 

These types of caterpillars in Michigan feed on nectar from flowers such as red valerian, Knautia arvensis, Heracleum sphondylium, and others.

The larvae have spikes on their body to protect themselves from predators. These types of caterpillars in Michigan can grow up to about an inch long and usually live for about one month before pupating into butterflies.

7. Curve-Lined Owlet Moth Caterpillar

The curve-lined owlet is a type of sphinx moth caterpillar that can grow to four inches long. These types of caterpillars in Michigan have distinctive yellow and brown stripes with black lines running along their sides.

This species feeds on several trees and shrubs, including birch, basswood, willow, elm, dogwood, and oak. 

As they grow older, they tend to get soft hair,y so you can probably recognize one easily once it’s gotten to that point.

So, to attract these lovely creatures into your garden, plant some of their favorite plants there! (It might seem strange at first, but if enough people do it, eventually, there will be an abundance).

8. Hornworms

Although not as common as other caterpillar species, hornworms can be found throughout Michigan. These types of caterpillars in Michigan have three greenish-black bodies and light orange stripes running along their sides.

This creature will also have an orange area behind its head that looks similar to an insect’s eyes, but it is simply a decorative horn. Like most caterpillars, these critters feed on plants that are normally grown indoors. 

As they grow, they will shed their skin five times before they pupate into beautiful moths later in the summer season.

However, it is important to note that hornworms can harm fruit trees and ornamental plants if left untreated. Fortunately, you can use several organic pesticides without harming your family or pets (see below).

9. White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar

This caterpillar is often found on poplar trees and birch, but it has also been spotted eating fruit trees. Its scientific name is Lithacodes fasciola.

These types of caterpillars in Michigan have a characteristic white mark that looks like a bandage or tussock.

The adult form of these moths is called armyworms, while their larvae are commonly referred to as tussock caterpillars. 

They can be up to three inches long and usually eat leaves, but sometimes they feed on grasses and grain crops.

Watch out if you see one on your fruit tree; armyworm damage can kill young trees by destroying foliage.

10. Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar

The Monarch Butterfly is an iconic species that are instantly recognizable people travel to see it throughout its migratory path.

But many don’t know that there are several species of monarch butterflies, and some aren’t butterflies at all! For example, the Milkweed Tussock Moth looks like a monarch but is very different. 

As its name suggests, it feeds on milkweed plants, which makes it popular with nature photographers and hobbyists who specialize in photographing insects.

So if you see one while out on your next nature walk, consider yourself lucky because these types of caterpillars in Michigan are rare to find.

11. Banded Tussock Caterpillar

The Banded Tussock caterpillar (Dasychira meridionalis) is not easy to find. This is because they spend most of their lives as larvae underground, only coming aboveground when it’s time to pupate.

As adults, Banded Tussocks have tawny-brown bodies with white, pale yellow, and black markings. 

These types of caterpillars in Michigan are found throughout North America and can even be found occasionally in some southern regions of Canada.

However, according to Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology sources, you’re more likely to spot them on home lawns than on plants that grow in parks or forests.

12. Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar

(Ecpantheria sp.) Found throughout much of North America, these furry caterpillars can be most easily identified by a distinctive orange or red stripe running lengthwise on their back.

These types of caterpillars in Michigan feed on a wide variety of trees and plants, including maples, hickory, willow, ash, oak, and fruit trees such as pear. 

During the day, they hide under rocks and debris, where you may encounter them crawling around your yard.

At night they are active predators feeding mostly on small insects like crickets that have been unfortunate enough to wander into their midst.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

13. Parsley Caterpillar (Black Swallowtail)

The Parsley Caterpillar looks like it is wearing a wig. This caterpillar feeds on parsley, which causes its yellowish-green body to turn black as it matures into a Black Swallowtail butterfly.

It has large, blue, orange spots and white tufts of hair at either end. 

The little hairs, called setae (pronounced see-tee), help protect against predators by creating a layer of air space around its body that acts like insulation and keeps out water loss due to evaporation or desiccation. Setae mean hairs in Greek.

14. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

Most people think of caterpillars and envision green, spiky worms that look like they’re related to a dinosaur. But there are many different types of caterpillars that you can see in Michigan.

Many of these types of caterpillars in Michigan may not even be immediately recognizable, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see some fascinating creatures on display. 

Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio glaucus) butterfly larva? They sure do grow up fast! This caterpillar is dark green with white and black stripes running along its body. It uses those stripes as camouflage when hanging out on foliage.

15. Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar,

The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar might look covered in cinnamon, but it’s a lot cuter. With orange and black stripes and yellow spots on its head, body, and legs, there’s just no getting around its adorable appearance!

And while it may be cute, make no mistake, if you touch one of these types of caterpillars in Michigan with your bare hands, you’ll probably get stung by more than its looks. 

The sting isn’t lethal or painful (unlike those found in some other parts of Michigan), but it can cause nausea and vomiting if consumed by humans.

Stay away unless you’re an expert! (Photo: stuartpilbrow via Flickr/Creative Commons)

16. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

The cecropia moth caterpillar’s coloring is a study in greens and browns, but don’t be fooled by its camouflage. It packs quite a bite. Touching these types of caterpillars in Michigan can cause an itchy allergic reaction.

While you may feel pain when bitten, fear not: Cecropia moths are non-venomous and aren’t harmful to humans or other creatures.

17. Monkey slugs

are a type of caterpillar most commonly found in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

These types of caterpillars in Michigan also can be found worldwide and are known for their leaf-like shape. The reason they have this shape is that they eat leaves, which turn into their green color. 

These caterpillars in Michigan also have long antennae resembling those on a monkey’s face. These antennae help them smell out their next meal, which is generally another type of leafy plant or herb.

Monkey slugs will often form groups to eat together, and when it gets too cold outside to hunt for food, they will sometimes find a place to hide from the cold and wait it out until it warms up again.

18. Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar

This bright orange, blue, and black spotted caterpillar is often found feeding on oak leaves. But don’t get your hopes up: This guy eats plants that can cause minor skin rashes if touched, so unless you’re an expert and know how to handle it safely, leave it alone. 

These types of caterpillars in Michigan prefer oak leaves but will also eat hackberry (another mild irritant), sweetgum, beech, redbud, persimmon, dogwood, and other broad-leaved trees.

They are found along the edges of forests with lots of shrubberies, where they hide during daylight hours. If one lands on you, it may rear back and flick a foul-smelling yellow liquid from its tail end at you!

19. Io Caterpillar

Io caterpillars are beautiful, with a lot of spiky green and black patterning. Unfortunately, these types of caterpillars in Michigan are also poisonous! The Io caterpillar is found throughout North America and is especially common in Michigan.

If you are stung by an Io caterpillar, you may experience localized swelling, vomiting, and drowsiness—so please be careful!

Conclusion

Many types of caterpillars are found throughout the state, but these 19 are some of the most common. While they may look scary, caterpillars are usually harmless and want to eat your plants.

If you’re interested in discovering more about these insects, check out our blog post on types of caterpillars in Michigan. 

It includes all sorts of fascinating information on what types of caterpillars live there, how long Michigan types of caterpillars live, and even why types of caterpillars in Michigan only come out at night.

You’ll find this blog post fascinating! It tells you everything you need to know about the types of caterpillars in Michigan, including where you can spot them, and it also explains what type of food they like to eat.

In addition, all ten types of caterpillars can be seen right here in Michigan!

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