20 Types of Caterpillars in North Carolina

Types of Caterpillars in North Carolina
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The name caterpillar comes from the Latin word Catullus, which means little cat. Caterpillars can be cute and fuzzy, so it makes sense that they got their name compared to felines, who are also soft and fluffy. 

Most people think of caterpillars as pests because of the damage they can cause to gardens and farms.

Still, many types of caterpillars in North Carolina serve very important roles in the ecosystem. Read on to learn about eight of these types of caterpillars that are native to North Carolina.

1. Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch caterpillars are the most common types of caterpillars in North Carolina. This is the only species that can be found throughout all four seasons.

These green and yellow-striped caterpillars are often found eating milkweed plants, which can cause them to produce a poisonous toxin to predators.

But because they’re so easy to spot, it’s hard for predators like birds and spiders to sneak up on them and eat them for lunch.

The body of a monarch caterpillar starts as black before gradually turning green with yellow stripes as they age.

2. Cabbageworm

The cabbageworm is a green moth that, as its name suggests, feeds on the leaves of cabbage plants.

However, it can also prey on other plants in the mustard family, such as broccoli and cauliflower. The caterpillar will eat so much it will turn black and look like a small snake.

It then spins a cocoon around itself, staying inside until it becomes an adult moth. Once this process completes, the newly emerged cabbageworm finds its way to a plant to mate.

When they lay eggs, those eggs hatch into more cabbage worms that feed off and kill more plants before going through the same life cycle again. 

3. Woolly Bear

One type of caterpillar common to North Carolina is the woolly bear. They are typically brown or black and have long, fuzzy coats ranging from white to brown to black.

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina start with a furry coating on their back and lose it as they grow up. 

Usually, around two inches long, these fuzzy critters are considered one of the tamer types of caterpillars in the state. Woolly bears hide during the day and come out at night when they’re looking for food. 

It’s rare for them to be seen during the day because they’re not very active. The most distinctive feature of this caterpillar is its hair-like filament which gives them their name

4. Viceroy Caterpillar

The Viceroy Caterpillar is one of the most common caterpillars found in North Carolina. With a black and yellow pattern on its head, the Viceroy looks a lot like a Monarch butterfly.

However, the best way to identify it is by looking at its underbelly; the Viceroy has white stripes, unlike the Monarch, which has black stripes. 

The Viceroy can be found year-round, but it’s usually seen during the spring and summer. These types of caterpillars in North Carolina feed primarily on flowers and leaves from milkweed, hollyhock, goldenrod, and sycamore trees.

5. Large Maple Spanworm

The Large Maple Spanworm is part of a family known as the Geometridae or geometer moths. This type of moth is fairly large, with an average wingspan of up to two inches. The caterpillar’s body color ranges from pale yellow-green to bright green. 

It has a banded pattern that is black and white on top and yellow-green on the bottom. It can be found in deciduous woods throughout the eastern half of North America, but it is most common in northern states such as New York and Michigan. 

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina are found along forest edges in summer, feeding on leaves and flowers. In winter, they hibernate near their breeding grounds.

6. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

The Variegated Fritillary caterpillar is a pale green moth with light and dark green, tan, and white stripes. It has black spots on the body, legs, and antennae.

The caterpillar is usually found on oak trees or bushes. There are few predators for this type of caterpillar, making it hard for them to defend themselves from predators like birds that prey on caterpillars. 

Once these creatures enter their pupal stage, they will turn into moths within two weeks. The Variegated Fritillary caterpillar is unique because they do not want to be on its own. They often form groups with other caterpillars to keep away predators. 

If one of the other members is eaten, another group member might go out looking for more food to bring back. Unfortunately, these types of caterpillars in North Carolina only have one generation each year.

7. Curve-Lined Owlet Moth Caterpillar

The Curve-Lined Owlet Moth caterpillar is a hairy brown caterpillar with a yellow stripe along the sides of its body. They are usually less than an inch long and have five pairs of true legs and ten pairs of prolegs.

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina feed on plants like cherry, apple, blackberry, grape, strawberry, and walnut trees. 

Adults are grayish-brown moths that live from May to July. Their wingspan ranges from 1/2 to 3/4 inches. The male has a wing spot near the forewing base, while the females do not. Female adults lay eggs in clusters under tree bark or other crevices.

8. Hornworms

Hornworms are the larva or caterpillar stage of the ichneumonid wasp. These types of caterpillars in North Carolina can be found on plants, trees, bushes, and ground cover.

Hornworm larvae are often green, brown, or black with white markings, can grow up to two inches long, and have a horn at the rear end. 

The horn is used for defense when threatened by predators. Four hornworms are found in North Carolina: the cabbage looper, tobacco budworm, tomato fruitworm, and corn earworm. 

Cabbage loopers are the most common type seen in gardens. Tobacco budworms can be found near wild tobacco fields. Corn earworms feed on corn crops, while tomato fruitworms feed off tomatoes and other vegetables.

10. Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar

The Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar is a type of caterpillar that feeds on milkweed plants and can be found in North Carolina. This species has three color variations: green, brown, and white. 

The green variety has yellow stripes running down the body, while the brown variety features yellowish stripes.

The white variation also has yellow stripes, but they are not as noticeable as the others. In addition to these colors, there are two morphs: one that is black with a cream-colored head and one that is completely cream-colored.

11. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar is a species found throughout the southeastern United States, including the Carolinas. Its bright colors make it easy to spot and identify when you’re outdoors.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar is just one of the types of caterpillars found in North Carolina. 

If you’re lucky enough to find one and want to raise it yourself, here are some tips on how to do so. First, be sure to provide the caterpillar with fresh leaves from plants that they feed on, like dill, parsley, nasturtiums, or violets.

12. Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar

The Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar is a large green caterpillar that frequents the eastern coastal areas and the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

It has a brown head with a white stripe down its back. The underside is orange with brown and white stripes. 

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina typically feed on oaks but can also be found on other trees and shrubs such as hickory, walnut, sweetgum, sassafras, redbud, and dogwood. They can grow up to six inches long! 

When fully grown, they will spin a cocoon around themselves and pupate, emerging two weeks later as an adult moth. Adult moths only live for about one week, but females lay eggs before they die, which will continue the cycle.

13. Banded Tussock Caterpillar

The banded Tussock caterpillar is one of the most common types of caterpillars found in North Carolina. It is called a tussock because it has tufts on its back that look like hair. It also has two black, wavy lines across its body and two yellow stripes that run down the sides. 

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina are usually bright green but can be brown to orange. They feed on grasses and produce silk as they go along to make their cocoons for pupation. 

They have four pairs of prolegs which help them move. The caterpillar goes through five stages before becoming an adult moth or butterfly.

14. Parsley Caterpillar (Black Swallowtail)

Black swallowtails are one type of the many caterpillars in North Carolina. These types of caterpillars in North Carolina are commonly found from April to June and are easily identified by their black color with white stripes on their wings.

Though they’re a type of butterfly, they undergo a metamorphosis that transforms them into a butterfly over two weeks. 

Young caterpillars will eat parsley and do not have the white stripe on its wing. These may be what you see more often during your spring garden walk, feeding on parsley leaves or lilac leaves.

As they grow larger, the caterpillar’s appearance changes and eventually looks like an adult butterfly with its bright yellow underwing with black spots.

15. Monkey Slug

Monkey slugs are large and green, with slimy brown tentacles. They are mostly found on the east coast of the United States.

They have a very distinctively wrinkly face. The monkey slug can grow up to seven inches long. 

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina eat decomposing wood, dead leaves, and dung. They live on land, are not aquatic, and do not feed underwater or swim around like other types of caterpillars in North Carolina.

It has been reported that they can leave droppings behind because they do not have an anus or any other opening for waste to exit their body.

16. Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar is a large, black and yellow caterpillar that lives in the eastern United States.

They are found on spicebush plants, hence the name. The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar has two large eyespots on its back, used to startle predators. 

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina also have a red-orange stripe down their back and side. Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars only eat one type of plant: the spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

So if you see this type of moth flying around in your area, it will most likely be an adult female looking for a place to lay her eggs.

17. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

Cecropia moth caterpillars are large and hairy, with big green heads. These types of caterpillars in North Carolina feed on leaves from many plants, including elm, oak, birch, maple, and cherry trees. They also feed on dogwood shrubs and fruit trees like apples and pears. 

Cecropia moth caterpillars are most active at night. They will curl up tightly to form a leaf-like shape when disturbed or threatened by predators. 

The cecropia moth larvae are the largest larva of any North American Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). It reaches about 6 inches long before pupating into an adult.

18. Flannel Moth Caterpillar (Asp)

The Flannel Moth caterpillar is also known as the Asp Caterpillar. The caterpillar has a white body with brown diagonal stripes that can be found along its length.

In addition, it has two brown dots and a yellow dot on its head. These caterpillars are usually found on oak trees or related species. 

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina are considered pests because they will eat the leaves off of the tree before they pupate into adults.

The Flannel Moth caterpillar is native to the Eastern United States and Canada, but it can also be found worldwide where there are oaks with Aspen trees nearby.

18. Io Caterpillar

The Io caterpillar, also known as the saddleback caterpillar, is a large moth found in forests. The larvae are often seen at the ends of branches and on tree trunks feeding on plant material.

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina have a brownish-orange body with yellow stripes running down each side and an orange head. 

When alarmed, it will raise its head and droop its tail to show off the bright orange underside. If it feels threatened or if you try to touch it, it will wriggle from side to side while rubbing its back against the surface below.

It has a pair of black spots at the end of each body segment that looks like eyes. They can grow up to 3 inches long and 2 inches wide when fully grown.

19. Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar

The Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar is a moth larva from the southern United States. The caterpillar is also known as the Orchard Swallowtail and can be found in wooded areas near apple trees. 

This creature has a bright green body with black spots, yellow legs, and a reddish head. It can grow up to 2 inches long and has many hairs on its body that give it a fuzzy appearance. 

The Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar feeds on plants such as cherry blossoms, crabapple flowers, honeysuckle flowers, oak leaves, lilac leaves, and fruit from plants such as lilac bushes or apple trees.

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina are most often found living in groups of three to five caterpillars.

20. White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar

The White-Marked Tussock Moth is a moth from the Erebidae family that can be found on many plants, including poison ivy and lilac.

These types of caterpillars in North Carolina are usually brown with white markings on their thorax and yellowish stripes down the abdomen. 

The White-Marked Tussock Moth larvae can grow up to three inches long, with a black head and two pairs of fleshy prolegs on the rear end.

The White-Marked Tussock Moth is not considered harmful to people or pets, but it may deflate plants they feed on if populations reach high numbers.


Butterfly caterpillars can be found all over the state, some more than others. Some of these types of caterpillars in North Carolina reside high in the trees, while others are found on the ground.

Some have bright colors that show their poisonousness, while others don’t. The caterpillar’s habitat and appearance will determine how to help it becomes a butterfly.

If you’re unsure what type of caterpillar you’re dealing with, it may be best to reach out for an expert opinion from one of our professionals. 

They’ll tell you whether your caterpillar is dangerous or not and give instructions on how to care for it accordingly. From there, it’s all about patience.

Once the caterpillar becomes a pupa and then a beautiful butterfly, we hope you’ll remember this blog post and take good care of any future ones too!

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