Caterpillar Facts

Fun Facts About Caterpillars

While the widely-known fact that caterpillars can transform themselves into something else is already fascinating, there’s plenty of other interesting information about these amazing creatures you might know yet.

But before we get into more details, let’s first clarify…

What is a caterpillar?

A caterpillar is the larvae or ‘baby’ form of insects that belong in the order Lepidoptera which consists of butterflies and moths. An insect only stays in their caterpillar form for around two to three weeks after which they transform into pupas before emerging as either a moth or a butterfly.

Fast Facts

Common Name Caterpillar
Scientific Name Larva
Average Size 30 to 60 mm
Average Lifespan Three weeks
Primary Food Leaves, flowers, plants

Source: A-Z Animals

Caterpillars only have six legs.

Close your eyes and imagine a caterpillar. How many legs does it have? Looks like a lot, right? But technically, they only have six legs. The rest are just prolegs or false legs that allow it to be able to hold onto and climb plants. A caterpillar usually has up to five pairs of prolegs which are concentrated around its abdominal segments and its hind end.

As they develop, they eventually lose these false legs and retain the six. You’ll notice that butterflies and moths have the same number of legs.

Caterpillars are pros at hiding.

Caterpillars are at a very vulnerable stage in their development, so they need to be able to protect themselves from possible harm. And since they aren’t the strongest of bugs, they must employ some creative strategies to survive. They rely on camouflaging themselves from the eyes of predators and they do it quite well.

One particularly nifty type of caterpillar, aptly called the camouflaged looper, hides itself by using bits and parts of the plants it eats as cover. To make it sure it can pupate to become a Wavy Lined Emerald moth, the camouflaged looper would take petals and leaf pieces and wear them as disguises. And once the bits dry off, they take fresh ones and hide themselves again.

Caterpillars shed like snakes.

Since caterpillars grow quickly and much before turning into pupas, they need to shed their skin as it becomes too small for their bodies the same way snakes do. A caterpillar usually sheds its skin around four or more times in its short lifespan.

Some caterpillars will look much different than what they initially looked before shedding with some growing hair, bristles and even changing colors. These changes usually happen during the insect’s last shed before developing into a pupa.

Caterpillars live to eat.

Eric Carle got some facts right in his story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. These cute creatures are really ravenous! In fact, we can say that a caterpillar’s primary function is to eat and fatten itself up in preparation for its metamorphosis.

Most caterpillars eat the leaves of the plant where its parent butterfly laid its eggs and which flowers it takes food from. For example, black swallowtails and monarch butterflies usually eat parsley and common rue so their caterpillars will also eat from these plants.

Some caterpillars are poisonous.

They may be cute but they’re also dangerous (well, some). Some caterpillars can be poisonous due to the toxicity it gets from the food it eats. Although the toxins from plants don’t harm them, it does help the caterpillar defend itself from predators. These poisonous types of caterpillar can usually be identified by their bright colors.

One example is the saddleback caterpillar, the larvae form of a moth usually found in Central America. Just by looking at its intimidating red color and odd resemblance to a Chinese dragon, you’d know to steer clear off its path when you come across one. It secretes an irritating liquid that can lead to painful stinging sensations, swelling and some rashes that last for many days.

Caterpillars that become butterflies don’t make cocoons.

Although ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ got some facts right, it spread the common misconception that caterpillars which turn into butterflies make cocoons.

In reality, it’s the moth caterpillars which make cocoons (though not all moths do) while butterfly caterpillars make chrysalises. Both cocoons and chrysalises are protective coverings intended for the pupal stage of a moth or a butterfly’s development. You can easily distinguish one from the other because the cocoon is made of silk while the chrysalis is not.

Caterpillars have around 4,000 muscles in their small bodies.

Impressive, huh? Especially when you consider the fact that humans, although much bigger than them, have only around 840 at most.

What’s more fascinating is that a caterpillar has 248 individual muscles in its head alone while having 70 muscles that control each segment of its body.

And while we’re on the topic of the caterpillar’s body, did you know that they are unusual crawlers because they crawl back to front in wave form? This unique form of movement is not seen in any other animal.

Bet you didn’t know most of these fun facts about caterpillars. Spread the info and share this article with your friends.