With summer foliage at its peak and first frost date still seven weeks away, there are plenty of caterpillars to be found munching away at green leaves all over southwest Virginia.
This list will give pictures and information on ten caterpillars commonly seen in this area.
If you've got a caterpillar to identify that's not covered in this list, try the following websites:
- The Bug Guide
- eNature - Mid-Atlantic Caterpillars
- Butterflies and Moths of North America - Caterpillar Image Gallery
- Discover Life - Caterpillar Identification Decision Tree
If you'd like to go a little further, a few good books on caterpillars, caterpillar identification, and the life cycles/metamorphosis of butterflies and moths are:
- Peterson First Guide: Butterflies and Moths by Paul A. Opler, Roger Tory Peterson, and Amy Bartlett Wright
- Peterson First Guides: Caterpillars by Amy Bartlett Wright
- From Caterpillar to Butterfly (Let's-Read-and-Find Out Science, Stage 1) by Deborah Heiligman and Bari Weissman
- Butterflies and Caterpillars. A Kids Book of Fun Facts and Photos on the Life Cycle of the Butterfly. (Kids Look and Learn Books) by Amanda Ollier
Three notes on caterpillar hunting and learning about caterpillar life cycles:
- Keep your hands to yourself. Caterpillars are small and fragile, even small fingers and hands could easily squeeze too hard and cause fatal injury. Additionally, a number of caterpillars are covered with spines or hairs that can cause irritating rashes and outright pain.
- Don't buy caterpillars to watch and raise now. Caterpillars bought at the wrong time of year will turn into butterflies when it's still too cold outside for them to survive. Nothing could be worse than ending the fascinating journey of metamorphosis by releasing the butterfly into a world where there's nothing blooming for it to eat from and where night time temperatures will likely kill it in less than 24 hours. Children most definitely will bond with and anthropomorphize any caterpillars they're allowed to interact with, and finding out that their butterfly friend is doomed to an early death will not go over well. If you must raise caterpillars at home (many organizations have concerns about buying butterflies for raising or release).
- Take good care of all wildlife, even the smallest ones. Watching a caterpillar eat, grow large, spin a cocoon and become a butterfly is an absolutely magical experience. If your child captures a caterpillar in the wild and wants to watch the metamorphosis, be sure to research what that caterpillar needs to survive (not just any kind of leaves, large enclosure, etc.) A great and quick guide to raising a wild caterpillar can be found at the Kids Butterfly Site. And, most certainly, have the child release the adult back into nature!
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