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Characteristics of caterpillar

Caterpillars are :
the larval stage of life of a moth or butterfly (insects) which occurs in indirect development, ie change
form from one stage to the next. (In insects, the stages are 1: egg, 2: larva, 3: pupa/chrysalis/cocoon,
4: adult).
vary in size but may measure up to 2-3 inches depending on species and age
are segmented, with a tubular shape, and more then 6 times the number of muscles a human has.
have 6 simple eyes for detecting light (non-directional, not-focusing)
use antennae to locate food
most feed on leaves
varied in color and pattern, some even having spines or pseudo-horns
Serve as protein-rich food for other insects, animals, even humans
species have developed a variety of self-defense mechanisms, such as barbed hairs, toxicity, or the
ability to escape on a line of silk.
A caterpillar has a head and 13 body segments. Three pairs of real legs and five pairs of sucker-like
false legs at the back, with hooks for grabbing. It breathes through small holes on its back. It has 12
eyes but relies on its antennae for navigation. Human beings have 629 muscles. Caterpillars have
4,000 with 248 muscles in the head alone. As the caterpillar grows , it periodically sheds the skin as it
becomes too tight. Caterpillars have very sensitive hair on their bodies that notice the change in the
air if a flying insect comes near, detecting a wasp half a meter away.
Some caterpillars eat as much as 27,000 times their body weight. The caterpillar of the Polyphemus
Moth, eats 86,000 times its weight at birth in two months. If a human baby weighed 9 pounds at birth
and grew at the same rate as a caterpillar, it would weigh 243,000 pounds when fully grown ( I think I
am nearly there!).
Caterpillars represent an important stage in the life cycle of butterflies and moths. The first stage
involves the eggs, larvae constitutes the second stage, the third stage is characterized by pupae
formation and the fourth stage witnesses the development of moths or butterflies. In short, caterpillars
form the second stage in the butterfly or moth life cycle and are the larval form of these insects.
However, there are some other insects, which have their larval forms similar to caterpillars. It has been
observed that such larvae are often mistaken for caterpillars, as people fail to identify a caterpillar
from other larvae.
How to Identify a Caterpillar
Nowadays, even small kids are aware of the fact that caterpillars are the larval form of butterflies and
moths. But, there are many people, who may not be able to identify a caterpillar, even though, they
have a basic understanding about these worm-like larvae. In order to identify a caterpillar, you must
have a basic understanding about the general physical features of a caterpillar and their different
Even though, the looks of different types of caterpillars vary to a great extent, there are some basic
physical features, which are common for all. In general, caterpillars have tubular bodies, which are
segmented. Whilemost of them have three pairs of true legs on their thoracic segments (three in
number), the number and location of prolegs on the abdominal segments may differ from one type to
another. Some types of caterpillars have hair that cover their body and in most cases, this hair can
cause itching, if it comes into contact with human skin. Studies show that a caterpillar has around
4000 muscles in their body and their movement is facilitated by the contraction of muscles in the rear
parts. These larvae breathe through tiny pores, that are located along the sides of thoracic and
abdomen segments. Some caterpillar types have gills, so that they can lead an aquatic life too.
Caterpillars have good eyesight, as they possess six (may vary) small eyelets. They can sense
vibrations and locate food with short antennae on their body. Their mouths are also strong enough to
chew food. While, most of them feed on plant matter, there are some, which catch and eat insects.
Now, you have a basic understanding about the physical features of caterpillars.
Identification Tips
One of the important points is to differentiate a caterpillar from a worm. Even though, both are having
soft bodies, there is one noticeable difference between the two. It is the presence of legs in caterpillars
(worms lack such appendages). The next step is to identify a caterpillar from the larvae of other
insects. Both can be differentiated with the following features. Most of the insect larvae, other than
caterpillars have prolegs on each and every body segment. Apart from that, caterpillars have hooks
attached to their prolegs and this feature is absent in other larvae. Another difference between the two
is the presence of ocelli in the head capsule of other larvae and the inverted 'Y' shaped marking on the
front side of the caterpillar's head.
Identification of specific caterpillar types can be done easily, if you know their characteristic features.
Each caterpillar type carries some of the characteristic feature of the genus. Most of them are
strikingly colorful, some have hair, some have other appendages, some are seen exclusively on some
special plants or trees. Note down the features of the caterpillar in question and search authentic
websites. There are various websites, which can help you to identify the caterpillar. Mentioned below
are some common caterpillar types, which can be identified with the following tips.
Geometrids / Loopers