19 Types of Caterpillars in Tennessee

Types of Caterpillars in Tennessee
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These types of caterpillars in Tennessee are pretty interesting, and you’ll have to work hard to identify each species from their unique coloring and markings.

Fortunately, if you know what to look for, these types of caterpillars in Tennessee can be quite easy to tell apart from one another.

Read more to learn about the distinguishing characteristics of these types of caterpillars in Tennessee and where you can see them throughout Tennessee.

1. Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch caterpillars are aptly named for their bright orange and black body, with a single white diagonal stripe on each side.

This stripe starts at the head and goes down one side to the end of the abdomen. These types of caterpillars in Tennessee are usually found feeding on milkweed plants, which gives them their orange colour. 

They grow to be about two inches long and have five pairs of true legs near their head, six pairs of prolegs near their middle, and five pairs of prolegs near their rear end.

Unlike other types of caterpillars, Monarch caterpillars do not shed or molt while they’re feeding as they instead grow continuously.

2. Cabbageworm

Cabbageworms are less common than other caterpillar types and are typically seen feeding on cabbage plants. Their green colour can distinguish Cabbageworms with brown heads.

The larvae are commonly found from late April to early June, and they can be found mainly on cabbages or related plants, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. 

They can also be spotted on other vegetables, such as celery, onion, spinach, and turnip greens. Although cabbage plants are their preferred meal choice for food, cabbage worms will go on to eat other types of food.

Cabbageworms are usually about one inch long but have been known to grow up to two inches long at times.

3. Woolly Bear

Woolly bears, also called Isabella Tiger Moth larvae, are a type of caterpillar living in North America’s Northeast region.

They grow to be about three inches long, and their distinguishing feature is a grey-brown furry coat that helps them blend into their environment. 

The woolly bear spends most of its time alone or only with other woolly bears and does not typically eat plants. When it pupates, it will spend up to two months encased in a cocoon before emerging as an adult moth.

4. Viceroy Caterpillar

The Viceroy caterpillar is a type of butterfly that can be found throughout the United States. It is differentiated from other caterpillars by its black head and black stripes. 

Viceroys have red spots on their abdomen and are often mistaken for other types of butterflies, such as monarchs, which also have red spots.

The viceroy caterpillar has a thin, yellow stripe around its body that helps to distinguish it from other types of caterpillars in Tennessee.

5. Large Maple Spanworm

The Large Maple Spanworm is a beautiful caterpillar with black, white, and red stripes. They are usually found on Maple trees during the spring and summer months. Their cocoons are usually found on twigs or leaf litter.

They tend to eat leaves off the tree they are on and will not be seen until around October, when they start forming cocoons.

The Large Maple Spanworm is also one of the largest types of caterpillars in Tennessee, with some growing up to 4 inches long!

6. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

The Variegated Fritillary caterpillar is a beautiful, vibrant creature found throughout many parts of Tennessee.

This bright and colourful caterpillar is often mistaken for a butterfly due to its resemblance to the wingspan and coloration.

However, not all types of caterpillars in Tennessee are as pretty on the inside as they are on the outside. 

The Variegated Fritillary caterpillar takes this adage literally, with its insides being just as stunning as its outsides.

When threatened or disturbed, this lovely creature releases a chemical that makes it difficult for predators to swallow them due to its unpleasant taste and texture.

This defence mechanism has evolved over time because this species faces numerous threats from birds and other animals looking to eat them.

7. Curve-Lined Owlet Moth Caterpillar

Curve-Lined Owlet Moth Caterpillar is one of many caterpillars that can be found in Tennessee.

These types of caterpillars in Tennessee looks like fuzzy, brown, or tan snake with black and white lines running down its back. It also has two long horns on its head, which are called cerci. 

The larva is approximately 1-1.5 inches long. Its lifespan ranges from six to nine months before it pupates into a cocoon and then transforms into an adult moth. 

However, this type of caterpillar only lives for about three weeks as a butterfly before it dies from natural causes or predators. The pupa can be found hanging upside down from leaves, branches, and other vegetation.

8. Tobacco Hornworm

The tobacco hornworm is a very large caterpillar that can grow up to 3 inches long. It has white, banded stripes and a dark head. You can see their droppings on the leaves below them, which look like small pieces of tobacco. 

The larvae are most commonly found on tomato plants and other nightshade family plants. They eat large amounts of foliage before pupating.

The Spotted Tussock Moth caterpillar is hairy and appears to have black spots all over its body, hence the name tussock moth. These spots are tufts of hair covering its body to protect it from predators.

9. White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar

The white-marked tussock caterpillar, or Megalopyge opercularis, is a common species in eastern North America.

The name tussock refers to the tufts of hairs on their abdomens which are thought to be used for defense and camouflage.

These types of caterpillars in Tennessee are usually bright green with brown heads and measure up to 2 inches long. 

This species is typically seen from April through September. They have a large range which includes most of Texas, all of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, as well as parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri. They can also be found throughout New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

10. Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar

The White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar is a moth caterpillar that feeds on leaves. You can find them from as early as April to as late as September. They are found throughout Tennessee but are most common in East Tennessee.

The caterpillar has black markings with white dots and is often mistaken for other species, such as the Fall Webworm and Eastern Tentiform Leafroller. 

When it’s time to pupate, they’ll wrap their body around a branch or leaf in an upside-down position so that their head will be pointing upward.

After they turn into moths, they’ll fly away, and you won’t see them again until next year when they return as adult moths!

11. Banded Tussock Caterpillar

The Banded Tussock caterpillar is one of the more common types in our area. These types of caterpillars in Tennessee are easy to identify because they have a distinctive banding that’s black and white. They grow up to 2 inches long and have yellowish-brown heads. 

They feed on trees such as oak, cherry, elm, maple, and hickory. The Banded Tussock caterpillar will leave behind a silk web from which it hangs upside down when it’s not feeding.

After eating for a few weeks, these types of caterpillars in Tennessee will enter their pupal stage before emerging as adult moths.

12. Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar

The Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar is a larger species and can measure up to three inches long. They have a dark green body with yellow stripes and a redhead.

These types of caterpillars in Tennessee also have small, black spots on its body which are always visible.

The Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar is active at night and feeds mainly on leaves from trees such as oak, ash, walnut, hickory, elm, cherry, maple, and birch. In some areas, they will feed on cabbage, beans, soybeans, and corn leaves.

The larvae hide during the day by folding their bodies into leaf shapes or pieces of bark or debris that they find close by.

At night they come out to eat foliage before returning to their hiding spot during the day. This particular species will pupate by spinning a silk cocoon around itself before emerging as an adult moth within two weeks.

13. Parsley Caterpillar

The parsley caterpillar is one of the most common caterpillars found in North America. It can be found from April through September. The larva is green to yellowish with stripes running across its body.

The larva will eat nearly everything it comes into contact with, including leaves, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

They are mostly green when they first hatch but turn brown as they grow. This caterpillar grows about an inch long; its head is black with two small white stripes on either side.

14. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillars (Papilio glaucus) is beautifully yellow and black types of caterpillars in Tennessee that you can find throughout most of the eastern United States. It is commonly found on plants such as dandelions, goldenrod, and violets.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail’s body has a velvety texture with black stripes running down the back and orange spots near its head. 

As it matures, it will form a chrysalis from which an adult butterfly will emerge. This process typically takes 10 to 14 days to complete but can be sped up by placing them in a refrigerator for about two hours before moving them into cold storage or wintering indoors.

15. Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar can be found on deciduous trees during summer. Its body is orange, brown, and black with a checkered pattern on its back.

When threatened, it will release a foul-smelling fluid from its mouth and use its bright yellow osmeterium to deter predators. 

These types of caterpillars in Tennessee have two sets of legs near their head and shorter front legs resembling antennae. These smaller front legs are used to grab onto twigs when they are in danger or during rest periods.

16. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

Cecropia moth caterpillars are types of caterpillars in Tennessee that are large and green with red and blue spots.

They can grow up to four inches long and have white hair on their backs. Cecropia moth caterpillars are typically found on maple trees.

They feed on the leaves of that tree, creating a webbing as they go. Cecropia moth caterpillars spend most of their time at the bottom of trees and bushes because they cannot fly or jump well.

These types of larvae are not poisonous but do contain hairs that irritate the skin, so caution should be taken if you come into contact with them.

17. Monkey Slug

The monkey slug is a type of caterpillar that can be found in various parts of North America, including parts of Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

They primarily eat leaves from shrubs, trees, and other plants. The larvae can grow up to 2 inches in length and are greenish-brown with dark spots on its back. 

It also has horns on its head, usually black or reddish brown. These horns distinguish it from other slugs because they contain venom that paralyzes their prey before they consume it.

When disturbed, these creatures will curl into a tight ball so as not to expose themselves to predators.

18. Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar

The Spotted Apatelodes caterpillars are types of caterpillars in Tennessee with a tan-colored body with dark brown or black spots. They have six legs and can measure up to 2 inches long.

The Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar is a moth belonging to the family Megalopygidae, which includes many moth species throughout North America.

The adults are active at night and have a wingspan of about 2 inches. Females lay eggs on leaves in clusters of 30 or more eggs. 

The larvae then hatch from the eggs and eat their way out of the leaf. Adults feed on nectar from flowers during the day but can also be attracted to light sources at night.

19. Io Caterpillar

The Io caterpillar, also known as the Io moth (Automeris io), is a large insect that lives throughout most of North America.

It can be distinguished from other types of caterpillars in Tennessee because it has a horn at the end of its body.

Io caterpillars are so large and easy to find that they have been used to teach children about insects and life cycles.

The Io moth is not considered dangerous, but they do release an unpleasant odor if disturbed or handled.

They spend their time sitting on tree branches waiting for predators such as birds and lizards to come by. 

When one comes close enough, the Io moth releases a pheromone that masks its smell which scares off the predator. It then captures them with its long proboscis before eating them.


There are many types of caterpillars in Tennessee, which can be hard to differentiate. One way to tell them apart is by looking at their antennae.

For example, both a butterfly and a moth have antennae on their heads, but moths have feathery antennae, and butterflies’ antennae have more bristles.

Another way to tell them apart is by looking at their body shapes. Butterflies are usually thin and long with wings that are usually colorful, while moths are usually hairy or fuzzy and have wings that are often mostly just one color.

If you see any types of caterpillars in Tennessee outside your home or if they’re crawling up your wall, contact pest control for help getting rid of them!

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