35 Weird (but COMMON) Caterpillars in Texas (2024)

What kinds of caterpillars can you find in Texas?

Common Caterpillars in Texas

Caterpillars are some of the MOST fascinating insects in the world! It always amazes me that caterpillars eventually turn into butterflies or moths.

There are hundreds of different caterpillar species found in Texas!

Since it would be impossible to list them all in one article, I chose the 35 most interesting and common ones to share with you. 🙂

#1. Monarch Caterpillar

  • Danaus plexippus

Caterpillars species that live in Texas

Identifying Characteristics:

  • This famous caterpillar is plump with black, white, and yellow bands.
  • Its legs and pro-legs are pronounced, and each end of its body has spindly black tentacles.
  • The Monarch’s preferred host plant is milkweed.

Like the adult butterfly, the Monarch is one of the most well-recognized caterpillars in Texas!

Common Texas Caterpillars

Their distinctive stripes and tentacles make them look cartoonish. But this highly visible coloring sends a message to predators: Back Off!

Monarch Caterpillars are toxic to most animals, and at the very least, taste bad! This poison comes from their diet, which is almost entirely made up of milkweed. Toxins from the milkweed plant stay in the caterpillar, producing a bitter taste and poisonous effects.

If you have milkweed in your yard or nearby, your chance of finding Monarch Caterpillars is excellent! Honestly, there is nothing more fun than finding these colorful insects on our milkweed plants and getting to watch them transform into adults!

#2. Cabbageworm

  • Pieris rapae

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring is light green with small yellow dots along the sides.
  • This species is small and relatively thin and appears velvety.
  • Cabbageworms’ host plants are Brassicas, including cabbage, kale, broccoli, and chard.

In Texas, this species is often called the Imported Cabbageworm because it isn’t native to North America. It was introduced in shipments of cabbage and other brassica plants and soon became an invasive species.

Cabbageworms are considered agricultural pests and can do severe damage to crops to their host plants. Cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are all susceptible to damage. For a home gardener, the best way to deal with Cabbageworms is to prevent a large infestation. Plant covers, regular weeding, and varied plantings can all help with preventing this hungry invader!

One reason Cabbageworms are so damaging is that they are voracious eaters! They can easily skeletonize entire plants, eating everything but the toughest stems and midveins. Boring through heads of cabbage and making huge dents in broccoli are no problem for this Very Hungry Caterpillar!

Cabbageworms grow into Cabbage White Butterflies, which are one of the most abundant butterflies in Texas! If you see a white butterfly in the spring, chances are it’s a Cabbage White!

#3. Woolly Bear

  • Pyrrharctia isabella

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring is black with a wide rusty-red band in the middle.
  • As its name suggests, the Woolly Bear caterpillar is covered in dense, coarse hairs.
  • Transform into Isabella Tiger Moths.
  • Woolly Bears are generalist feeders, meaning they will live on and eat nearly any plant!

As a kid, I can remember hearing tons of stories about Woolly Bear caterpillars – and the coolest part about them is that most of the stories are true! One myth you might have heard is that Woolly Bears can predict the type of winter we’ll have. Unfortunately, this one isn’t true. But there’s plenty of other interesting facts about this cute little caterpillar!

The most fascinating thing about Woolly Bears is the way they hibernate.

That’s to say, they don’t hibernate at all! Instead of burrowing or pupating to escape the cold, Woolly Bears allow themselves to freeze solid. They have a unique chemical in their blood that allows them to thaw out and continue in the spring as if nothing happened!

You may have heard that Woolly Bear Caterpillars are venomous, but this isn’t entirely true. Their hairs don’t contain any toxins or irritants, but some people are sensitive to the hairs and may get a slight rash if they touch one. It’s best to observe the species without touching them, just in case.

Woolly Bear Caterpillars and their adult-form, Isabella Tiger Moths, are found in incredibly varied climates, even the Arctic! Because they will eat almost anything, including herbs, tree leaves, and grasses, they can be found pretty much anywhere plants are growing. Look for them in groups near the base of plants.

Just don’t expect them to take over for your meteorologist! 🙂

#4. Viceroy Caterpillar

  • Limenitis archippus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is mottled brown or green and white to resemble bird droppings.
  • Two dark-colored horns on the head and small spines on the body.
  • The chrysalis also resembles bird droppings hanging from a tree branch.
  • The preferred host plants of Viceroy Caterpillars are willow, poplar, and cottonwood trees.

Viceroy Caterpillars are one of the ugliest caterpillars in Texas!

This is by design; their lumpy, mottled appearance makes them look like bird droppings, warding off predators!

Interestingly, this isn’t the Viceroy’s only protection against predators. Viceroy Caterpillars eat plants that are rich in salicylic acid, which they store in their bodies. When predators try to eat them, they are rewarded with a strong, bitter flavor and an upset stomach. One taste and they learn to stay away!

Viceroy Caterpillars primarily live in open forests or fields, and they’re found across many different climates. Look for them during spring and summer, which is when the adults typically mate.

Interestingly, Viceroy and Monarch Caterpillars look almost identical.

#5. Large Maple Spanworm

  • Prochoerodes lineola

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Gray-brown coloring with small black spots scattered on the body. Often this species has a bark-like pattern.
  • Thin and stick-like with a knob on each end.
  • Large Maple Spanworms use a huge variety of plants and trees as hosts: birch, maple, cherry, apple, oak, poplar, walnut, and willow trees; geranium, soybean, blueberry, and currant plants; and grass.

This species has one of the best camouflages of any caterpillar in Texas!

Large Maple Spanworms look exactly like a bit of twig on a tree, even from up close! So, it’s hard to imagine any predator observant enough to try and eat one, which is precisely its goal.

Their camouflage is the only defense Maple Spanworms have because they aren’t poisonous. They’re a favorite snack for determined birds!

When they’re not imitating sticks, Large Maple Spanworms have an interesting way of getting around! They plant their front legs, arch their back in the air, and bring their back legs forward to meet their front. Then, they throw their front forward and repeat the whole process. They’re one of many caterpillars that move like this, earning them nicknames like inchworm, looper, or spanworm.

Large Maple Spanworm Moths are just as adept at camouflage as their larva – they look exactly like dead leaves clinging to a branch!

#6. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

  • Euptoieta claudia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Stripes of black, red, and white run the length of the body.
  • Black branched spines stick out from each body segment in even rows.
  • Variegated Fritillaries will use any plant in the violet or alder family as a host plant. These include common blue violets, yellow alder, and pansies.

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillars share the same name as their adult-form butterflies. They eat ornamental plants like violets, pansies, and passionflower.

Look for these caterpillars in Texas in meadows, open lots, and fields.

The Variegated Fritillary’s chrysalis is the most beautiful of all the caterpillars in Texas. This protective shell is where the caterpillar transforms into the adult butterfly. Its pearly white color and shiny gold spikes make it look like an expensive jeweled pendant!

#7. Curve-Lined Owlet Moth Caterpillar

  • Phyprosopus callitrichoides

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is shades of brown and cream, occasionally near black.
  • The distinctive body shape is spiky, contorted, and asymmetrical, like a dry leaf.
  • Greenbriers are the host plant of choice for this species.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen a Curve-Lined Owlet Caterpillar in Texas!

However, you may not have even realized it because this species is an expert at camouflage. Its body is meant to look like a dry, curled leaf clinging to a branch. I think it succeeded!

Interestingly, it isn’t only the larva of this species that hide in plain sight. Curve-Lined Owlet Moths also have coloring and texture that resembles a dry leaf. So, it seems like even though the insect goes through a complete metamorphosis, it keeps some of the survival traits into adulthood!

The host plant of the Curve-Lined Owlet Caterpillar is greenbrier, a vine plant common in many habitats. This species prefers woodland and nearby clearings, but it’s sometimes spotted in more developed areas like office parks or lush backyard gardens.

#8. Hornworms

  • Manduca sexta – Tobacco Hornworm
  • Manduca quinquemaculata – Tomato Hornworm

Identifying Characteristics:

  • These two species have nearly identical coloring: bright green with tiny white lines and black dots.
  • There’s a thin, filament-like “horn” on the rear end.
  • Hornworms grow up to 3.5 inches in length before metamorphosis.

Tobacco and Tomato Hornworms are so similar that they’re often mistaken for one another! The easiest way to tell them apart is by the color of their horns. Tobacco Hornworms have a red horn, and Tomato Hornworms have a green or black horn. While the adult moths they grow into aren’t quite as similar, they do have the same coloring.

Hornworms are considered one of the most destructive caterpillars in Texas.

They specialize in eating tobacco, tomato, and other similar plants and regularly cause problems for farms and growers who don’t use pesticides. However, relocating or killing the caterpillars can be enough for many home gardeners to deter any more from eating your plants.

One particularly disgusting enemy of the hornworm is Cotesia congregata. It’s a parasitoid wasp that attacks the caterpillar with venom and then lays its eggs INSIDE the living body. As the caterpillar matures, so do the wasp eggs, slowly feeding on the hornworm until it dies and the wasps hatch. Gross!

#9. White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar

  • Orgyia leucostigma

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Black and yellow stripes run the length of the body with a large red spot on the head.
  • Many tufts of hair-like spines.
  • White-Marked Tussock Caterpillars will use nearly any coniferous or deciduous tree as a host!

The White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar wins the prize for the most interesting haircut!

Tufts of spiky hair give this caterpillar the look of having antennae, a tail, and spiky sides. In addition, four white tufts look like paintbrushes sprouting from its back. Talk about a unique style! And it doesn’t stop there – on the adult White-Marked Tussock Moth, the Antennae themselves are covered in fur!

The hairs on the White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar and its relatives are called urticating hairs, meaning they can cause a rash. Although it may be annoying and itchy, the inflammation isn’t dangerous, and this species is not venomous.

White-Marked Tussock Caterpillars sometimes have population outbreaks, where a local population swells exponentially. When these outbreaks happen, it’s common for colonies of the caterpillars to eat all of the leaves off of a tree, severely damaging them. Fortunately, there are quite a few natural predators that aren’t bothered by its hairiness and they are able to feast!

Viral infections eventually stop many population outbreaks of White-Marked Tussock Caterpillars. Alphabaculovirus, which is a class of viruses that infect and kill many caterpillars, moths, and butterflies, is mostly to blame. Infections spread quickly through White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar populations because they live closely together on the same host plant. The virus causes rapid sickness and death among infected individuals.

#10. Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar

  • Euchaetes egle

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Tufts of black and white hairs cover the body, with one line of black-centered orange tufts along the back.
  • The body is relatively thin and up to 1.5 inches long.
  • As its name suggests, this species’ preferred host is Milkweed.

Despite looking very different, Milkweed Tussock Caterpillars in Texas have a lot in common with Monarch caterpillars!

Milkweeds are the preferred host plant for both species. However, the really interesting thing about them isn’t what they eat; it’s why! Milkweed Tussock Caterpillars store a poisonous chemical from milkweed called cardiac glycoside in their body.

It doesn’t harm the caterpillar, but it does an effective job of making the caterpillar both disgusting and dangerous for many predators! In fact, Blue Jays have been known to vomit after eating just one of these furry little caterpillars.

The fascinating thing about cardiac glycoside is it stays in the caterpillar’s body through its transformation into a moth. So, even though Milkweed Tussock Moths don’t eat milkweed, they still have the benefits that the caterpillar’s diet created!

#11. Banded Tussock Caterpillar

  • Halysidota tessellaris

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring is pale cream, yellow, light brown, or white. Black tufts on the head and rear end stick out further than the white hairs.
  • One darker line runs down the center of the back.
  • Its preferred host plants are alder, ash, and fruit trees.

The Banded Tussock Caterpillar is similar in appearance to other Tussock Caterpillars, with one main difference – it’s actually not a true Tussock Caterpillar at all!

This master of disguise is actually the larva of the Pale Tiger Moth. Unlike true Tussock Caterpillars, this species isn’t venomous. However, some people are extra sensitive to the hairs that cover its body and may still get a rash. Even if you’ve identified a caterpillar as a Banded Tussock, it’s best to observe, not handle, the caterpillar!

Banded Tussock Caterpillars have an interesting way of forming their chrysalis when it’s time to transform into adult moths. They use their hairs to make a soft, felted cocoon that keeps them from freezing over winter!

#12. Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar

  • Hypercompe scribonia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Black bristles cover the entire body with red rings evenly spaced.
  • This caterpillar is often found curled in a ball, which is its defensive posture.
  • Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillars eat the fruit and leaves of cherry, cabbage, dandelion, maples, orange, sunflowers, violets, and willows.

This unassuming caterpillar is hiding a big secret – it grows up to be a large and absolutely beautiful moth!

If you find one, you might mistake the Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar for a Woolly Bear Caterpillar. It’s easy to confuse the two, and this species is sometimes called the Giant Woolly Bear! But the red rings on the Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar are narrower and run the length of its body.

As Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillars form a chrysalis, they shed the exoskeleton with their trademark bristly hairs. This makes the cocoon look like it’s wearing a large wig! 🙂

Adult Giant Leopard Moths are huge, up to 3.5 inches across, and bright white with a spotted pattern. They are intimidating moths, especially if you’re not expecting to find one. I recently saw one up close in my garage, and I certainly won’t forget the encounter anytime soon!

#13. Parsley Caterpillar (Black Swallowtail)

  • Papilio polyxenes

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is bright green, with rings of black and yellow dots down the length of the body.
  • The head and thorax are slightly larger than the back, and the legs and pro-legs are pronounced and visible even from a distance.
  • Parsley plants are the preferred host of this species.

Parsley Caterpillars, sometimes called parsley worms, are the larva of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. They get their name from their preferred host and favorite snack, the parsley plant.

At first glance, it’s easy to mistake a Parsley Caterpillar for a Monarch. But, the coloring is slightly different, and the stripes on the Monarch Caterpillar are a bit thinner. It would also be unusual for a Monarch Caterpillar to eat parsley or other garden herbs since they eat milkweed almost exclusively!

If you’re a gardener, you might consider Parsley Caterpillars a bit of a nuisance since they can decimate a parsley plant quickly. But, if you plant some extra, you’ll be rewarded with sightings of the beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly in a few weeks!

#14. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

  • Papilio glaucus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is bright green with two large eyespots in white, black, and blue.
  • The thorax is much larger than the middle and tail, giving the caterpillar the look of an enlarged head.
  • The favorite host plants of this species are the tulip tree and wild black cherry.

This species is one of the strangest-looking caterpillars in Texas!

The appearance of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillars is so unique they inspired a Pokemon! Caterpie (the Pokemon) has the same features, including its horn-like Osmeterium, bulbous thorax, and large round eyespots. I consider this to be quite an honor! 🙂

This caterpillar’s primary defense is mimicry, using its unique shape and coloring to imitate a snake’s head. Additionally, as a young caterpillar, its color is brown and white to mimic bird droppings!

Interestingly, the adult Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly stands out in a crowd with its unique coloring and pattern.

Another defense of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is its Osmeterium, a horn-like organ that can be projected from the caterpillar’s head. Its dual functions are to mimic a snake’s forked tongue and to smell horrible to predators! Interestingly, to humans, the odor is strong but pleasant, like grass and pineapple!

#15. Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

  • Papilio troilus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is bright yellow-green with white-ringed black eyespots and smaller black dots along the back.
  • The head of this species is larger than the tail-end.
  • The primary host plants are spicebush and white sassafras.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillars, like other caterpillars in Texas, are excellent at mimicry, both as larva and adults.

As adult butterflies, their coloring is similar to Pipevine Swallowtails, a similar species that has a bitter, foul taste. However, the truly remarkable mimicry is on display when this insect is still a caterpillar.

Its coloring is bright green, and its head is enlarged. On top, it has two large, round spots that look just like eyes, and it also has a forked red organ called an osmeterium that can be unfurled. All of these together make the caterpillar look like a fearsome green snake, especially to birds looking for a meal. Most potential predators steer clear!

As you might have guessed from its name this species prefers spicebush as its host plant. If you include spicebush in your garden, be sure it’s native to your area. You may be rewarded with a sighting of this wonderfully strange caterpillar or the beautiful adult butterfly!

#16. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

  • Hyalophora cecropia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring of this species changes with each instar growth. Most commonly seen in late instar; green with yellow, blue, and red bumps topped with black spikes.
  • It has a large, fleshy body and very obvious leg appendages.
  • Cecropia Caterpillars prefer birch, cherry, and maple trees for host plants.

Cecropia Caterpillars look more like aliens than anything!

Their bulbous bodies and multicolored, spiked nodules truly look like something from a sci-fi movie.

Look for Cecropia Caterpillars on maple, birch, and apple trees during late spring. They remain in their caterpillar stage for about two weeks before encasing themselves in their chrysalis for winter.

This species is one of many caterpillars in Texas called a “silkworm”. The name refers to the silk cocoon they spin around their chrysalis in preparation to become a moth. The cocoons are brown and cling to the side of host plants, and look like dead leaves.

As strange as Cecropia Caterpillars look, it’s nothing compared to the adult Cecropia Moth. Not only is the pattern and coloring beautiful, but this moth is also ENORMOUS! In fact, it’s the largest moth in North America!

#17. Monkey Slug

  • Phobetron pithecium

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring is tan to brown with a lighter underside.
  • Seven pairs of projections stick out from the sides of the flattened body.
  • Monkey Slugs will use any woody-stemmed plant or tree as a host.

You shouldn’t have any trouble recognizing a Monkey Slug Caterpillar!

Its body shape is unique among caterpillars in Texas. In fact, with its fourteen leg-like projections covered in dense hair, you might even think you’ve found a particularly hairy spider instead of a caterpillar!

Monkey Slugs look pretty intimidating. Despite their tough appearance, their venom isn’t potent and usually only produces a mild rash. Individuals are solitary, so it’s unusual to find more than one. Their most common hosts are grove and orchard trees like apple and chestnut.

Look for Monkey Slugs during late summer, when they are most active and preparing to form their chrysalis. Their adult form, the Hag Moth, won’t be active until the following spring.

Phobetron pithecium (Smith, 1797), to actinic light and LepiLED, Natural Area Teaching Laboratory, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA, 1 October 2018

#18. Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar

  • Apatelodes torrefacta

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring varies from bright white to lemon yellow. Black spines, similar to antennae, protrude from the ends and back.
  • It’s covered in soft, downy hairs that look like fur.
  • Ash, maple, and oak trees are its favorite host plants.

If you’re looking for the cutest caterpillar in Texas, look no further than the Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar! This species, covered in downy fur with tufts of black hairs, looks like a cuddly stuffed animal to me!

Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillars aren’t venomous, but there are reports of people allergic to their hairs. Usually, this species is safe to touch and won’t hurt if you accidentally brush against one. However, if you’re unsure what species you’ve touched, you should seek medical advice!

This species is most active in late summer and uses many fruit trees as its host plant. Look for Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillars and adult Moths in orchards and groves. They shouldn’t be difficult to spot!

#19. Io Caterpillar

  • Automeris io

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is green with two stripes along each side, one red and one white.
  • Tufts of short green spines cover the body, with patches of light green showing through.
  • Io Caterpillars use hackberry and willow trees as host plants.

Io Caterpillars are highly venomous, and their sting is excruciating!

Fortunately, the sting is rarely severe enough to seek medical attention. Instead, most experts recommend removing the spines with scotch tape, then applying ice to the sting. Over-the-counter antihistamines and pain relievers can also help.

Of course, the best way to stay safe is to avoid touching Io Caterpillars. Since they’re so recognizable, this should be pretty easy!

Their tufts of green spines are distinctive and hard to miss against darker green leaves or brown bark. The red and white stripes on the sides are also helpful – they clearly say, “Stay back, I’m dangerous!”

If you know you’re going to be gardening or doing yard work in an area with Io Moths or their caterpillars, it’s a good idea to wear a hat and gloves. That way, if you happen to brush against one, you won’t have to worry about exposed skin!

Adult Io Moths are just as distinctive as their larva – if not more so! They have a beautiful pattern with large, prominent eyespots. There are two color morphs:

#20. Flannel Moth Caterpillar (Asp)

  • Megalopyge opercularis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • The coloring is off-white to brown and long, thick hair covers the entire body, making this caterpillar resemble a wig.
  • Generally, about 1 inch long and 0.5 inches wide.
  • Prefers oak, elm, and wild plum trees as hosts.

If you see a very furry caterpillar in Texas, STAY BACK!

It’s most likely a member of the Flannel Moth family, the most venomous caterpillars in our area. Victims have described the pain from this caterpillar’s sting as similar to a broken bone or a white-hot burning sensation.

Their sting can cause tons of unpleasant symptoms, including swelling, nausea, headache, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. Especially in young children, the symptoms require medical attention, so if you think you’ve been stung, seek help!

Contact with Flannel Moth Caterpillars often happens during gardening or clearing brush. They use many common yard plants as hosts. You should be extra careful if you have oak or elm trees, roses, or ivy in your yard since these are its favorites. These caterpillars are most common in late spring and summer.

It’s always a good idea to wear gloves if you’re working outside, but especially if you have them in your neighborhood!

Adult Flannel Moths are just as furry as their caterpillars, but they aren’t nearly as painful to touch!

#21. Hubbard’s Silk Moth Caterpillar

  • Syssphinx hubbardi

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring is green with a violet stripe along the sides, and white dots speckle the body.
  • Thin, hair-like spikes cover the body.
  • Honey mesquite and catclaw acacia are this species’ favorite host plants.

This caterpillar has an extraordinary talent – it glows in the dark!

While technically this species displays bio-fluorescence, meaning it glows under UV light, it’s one of the only caterpillars in Texas that can be compared to a glowstick. 🙂

Look for Hubbard’s Silk Moth Caterpillars on desert plants like Wright’s acacia, honey mesquite, and catclaw acacia. They’re most active in the spring and summer.

Interestingly, this species doesn’t attach their chrysalis to a tree when it comes time to transform into a moth. Instead, it creates a shallow hole in the ground, spins its tough outer shell of silk, and settles in for the winter!

Adult Hubbard’s Silk Moths are much more unassuming than their larva, however, they do hide a bright secret under their wings – the top of the lower wings are bright pink!

#22. Common Buckeye

  • Junonia coenia

  • Caterpillars are dark brown to black with stripes along the back and sides and spines around the entire body.

Common Buckeye caterpillars in Texas are found in open spaces like pastures, old fields, and roadsides.

Although the butterflies are hard to approach and wary of predators, they fly low to the ground and will often perch long enough for you to snap a photo.

In the southern U.S., Common Buckeyes don’t have a specific mating season. Because the weather stays warm, they can continually reproduce.

Common Buckeyes in northern states migrate south for the winter and return in the spring for mating. These northern individuals can produce two to four generations each season!

#23. Pipevine Swallowtail

  • Battus Philenor

Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies constantly move around to find nectar. They particularly like pink and purple flowers! If you want to attract these beautiful visitors, plant nectar-producing flowers like Phlox.

Males actively seek out females when they are ready to mate. Once the female mates, she places her eggs on the undersides of the host plant. After hatching, the caterpillars feed in groups on host plants in the Aristolochia family, like Virginia Snakeroot and Dutchman’s pipe.

butterflies in the united states

Like some other caterpillars in Texas, the Pipevine Swallowtail is unpalatable to birds and other predators.

#24. Painted Lady

  • Vanessa cardui
Vanessa cardui. (2023, August 10). In Wikipedia.
  • The caterpillars’ coloring is variable, ranging from greenish-yellow to charcoal. Most have light-colored spots.

Look for Painted Lady caterpillars in Texas in open areas that are quiet and undisturbed, like roadsides, pastures, and gardens.

The population of Painted Lady’s can drastically differ from year to year. It’s common for them not to be seen for years in some places, then suddenly show up in significant numbers.

The Painted Lady is the only butterfly that mates year-round! Because of its constant migration pattern, it spends its entire life in suitable areas for its eggs to hatch.

#25. Red Admiral

  • Vanessa atalanta

  • The caterpillars are pinkish-gray to charcoal with white spots. They have spines along the back that resemble hairs.

Look for this caterpillar in Texas near the edge of forests in moist habitats.

Red Admiral Butterflies have a unique favorite food – they love fermented fruit! If you’d like to attract them, try placing overripe cut fruit in a sunny spot in your yard.

Red Admirals are migratory butterflies. They fly south toward warmer climates in winter and then move north again in late spring when food is more plentiful.

If you’re looking for a butterfly that’s easy to observe, you’re in luck! Red Admirals are very calm and easy to approach and frequently land on humans!

#26. Hackberry Emperor

  • Asterocampa celtis

Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  • Caterpillars are light green with two yellow stripes on the back. Two short spines top the head, with two small tails on the rear end.

Hackberry Emperor caterpillars are common in Texas.

Look for them in moist wooded areas, parks, and suburban yards.

One place you WON’T find Hackberry Emperors BUTTERFLIES is on flowers since they don’t eat flower nectar at all!

Asterocampa celtis. (2023, June 25). In Wikipedia.

Although flowers don’t attract them, these insects are naturally curious and will even land on humans who happen to be near them. One reason for this habit is to ingest sodium from our skin! This may be hard to believe, but Hackberry Emperors find the minerals they need to survive in many unusual places, like soil, rocks, and even pavement!

They also eat sap, dung, carrion, and rotting fruit and drink water from rain puddles. They might be one of the least picky eaters I’ve encountered!

#27. Pearl Crescent

  • Phyciodes tharos

  • Caterpillars are dark brown with cream stripes and spines all over their bodies.

The Pearl Crescent caterpillar’s preferred host plant is the Aster. Any flowering plants in your yard will attract this beautiful butterfly, but for best results, try to find one native to your area.

Look for Pearl Crescent butterflies in Texas near moist ground.

They prefer open, sunny habitats, but many locations suit their needs, including forest edges, fields, meadows, and gardens.

When the caterpillars grow into butterflies, they will feed on the nectar of the Asters as well!

#28. Rosy Maple Moth

  • Dryocampa rubicunda

Rosy Maple Moths are undoubtedly the cutest caterpillars in Texas!

Even those uninterested in insects will love them. They’re common and fairly easy to find, too. These bright caterpillars spend time in deciduous forests and suburban and urban areas.

In northern areas, you’ll see Rosy Maple Moths from May to August, while in the south, you may spot them from April to September. Depending on their location, they may have one to three generations per year.

As their name suggests, Rosy Maple Moth caterpillars primarily feed on maple trees. They are especially fond of red, silver, and sugar maples. The coloration of the adult moths helps them blend in with maple seed cases as they reproduce and lay eggs.

After about a month, when the caterpillars are fully mature, they crawl down the tree and burrow into shallow underground chambers to pupate. Adults may emerge in as little as two weeks, but the pupae will overwinter in colder weather, and the adult moths emerge in the spring.

#29. Mourning Cloak

  • Nymphalis Antiopa

  • Caterpillars are black with white specks and a row of red spots on the back.

Mourning Cloak caterpillars are most often found near deciduous forests. However, their habitat includes many developed areas like suburban yards, parks, and golf courses.

You might have a hard time finding this caterpillar in Texas.

Even though it’s fairly widespread, its preference for cold weather and solitary habits make it hard to spot, even for avid butterfly enthusiasts!butterflies in the united states

Mourning Cloaks are often the first butterflies to become active in the spring! In fact, some adults are even active through winter on warm days when snow is still on the ground.

They’re also one of the longest-lived butterflies, with some individuals living up to ten months!

#30. Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth

  • Malacosoma disstria

Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth populations fluctuate in cycles, so you may go years without seeing any and then see lots of them in one season. Their populations reach outbreak proportions every 6-16 years.

Adult Forest Tent Caterpillar Moths are active in July, don’t feed, and live for ten days. Especially in outbreak years, you might spot large groups clustered around outdoor lights.

Unlike other tent caterpillars, Forest Tent Caterpillars don’t spin true tents. Instead, they spin silk mats on the tree’s trunk or branches where they rest when they’re not feeding.

#31. Western Tent Caterpillar Moth

  • Malacosoma californica

In the fall, Western Tent Caterpillar Moths lay about 150 to 250 eggs in oval-shaped masses. They cover the eggs with a gluey cement substance called spumaline, which helps hold in heat and absorbs rainwater to prevent the eggs from drying out. It also protects the eggs from parasitoid wasps.

Even though it only takes three to four weeks for the caterpillars to mature, they must overwinter in this stage before pupating into moths. Their name comes from the silken tent they create to protect themselves from extreme cold during this time.

These caterpillars have a voracious appetite and can quickly defoliate trees in Texas during a population outbreak. While it may be unsightly, the trees usually recover just fine. Interestingly, these caterpillars have regional tastes, and the specific trees they prefer are highly dependent on their location.

#32. Checkered White

  • Pontia Protodice
Pontia protodice. (2023, August 13). In Wikipedia.

Checkered White caterpillars are common in Texas.

One of the most fascinating characteristics of this butterfly is its ability to use UV signals to communicate. These amazing insects can tell the difference between males and females of their species based on the UV radiation they give off! If a female notices that there are a lot of other females, she will migrate to a less dense population in hopes of attracting a mate.

Checkered White Range Map

Pontia protodice. (2023, August 13). In Wikipedia.

Checkered White females lay their eggs on the host plants’ fruits and sometimes the stems. The larvae prefer to eat the flower or fruit of the host plant instead of the leaves.

butterflies in the united states

This butterfly prefers open and sunny areas like deserts and plains, and it’s often found in vacant lots, airports, railroads, and dry grassland.

#33. Gulf Fritillary

  • Dione vanillae

Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are common in butterfly gardens throughout Texas.

They prefer sunny open grasslands, woodlands, or parks as their habitat. The best plants to attract these vibrant butterflies are passion vines and Lantana plants.

Gulf Fritillaries have a unique mating ritual where the female and male circle around each other while the male releases pheromones. When the female settles, the male hovers above her, showering her with more pheromones. Then, the male settles beside the female and flaps his wings, covering her antennae to assure her he is the same species.

butterflies in the united states

After the pair mates, the female flies low into vegetation and lays one egg. The female continues laying her eggs on the host plant, usually a passion vine of the species Passiflora lutea or Passiflora incarnata.

#35. Queen

  • Danaus Gilippus

Queen caterpillars are found in open and arid areas in Texas close to milkweed. Males have a black scale patch that releases pheromones, attracting females to mate with. After mating, the female will stay close to the area where she found the male and lay her eggs nearby.

Queen butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants.

butterflies in the united states

The fascinating reason for this comes down to self-preservation! Like other caterpillars, these insects consume Cardiac Glycosides from the milkweed plants. These chemicals taste bad to predators and are carried over to their adult stage, protecting them from being eaten.

#35. Two-Tailed Swallowtail

  • Papilio Multicaudata

Two-Tailed Swallowtail caterpillars are found in Texas in areas with open space and plenty of sunlight. Look for them in foothills, canyons, valleys, woodlands, roadsides, parks, cities, and suburb gardens.

Males of this species spend their entire lives finding a female to mate with due to their short lifespan. If it takes a long time to find a mate, males search for nutrients in rotten material, dirt, and sometimes feces, an odd behavior called mud puddling.

butterflies in the united states

Although it’s one of the most recognizable features, the Two-tailed Swallowtail doesn’t need its tails to fly. Instead, they’re often used to escape predators. When a predator attacks the Swallowtail and grabs onto its tail, it breaks off, allowing the butterfly to escape.

Do you need more help identifying caterpillars in Texas?

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Which of these caterpillars have you seen in Texas?

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