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9 Types of Caterpillars in Florida (Pictures)

Caterpillars are larvae of moths and butterflies. While we typically associate green, smooth bodies with caterpillars, there are actually different shapes, colors, and unique features. Caterpillars in Florida and around the world typically have one job – to eat, grow, and eventually transform into flying insects.

Florida’s variety of trees, plants, and flowers attract many butterflies and moths that lay eggs for their caterpillars to survive on, so its no surprise they’re all over the state. Here is a list of 9 caterpillars you can find in Florida, including the host plants you’ll see them feeding on.

Collage image caterpillars in Florida

9 unique species of caterpillars in Florida

The 9 species of caterpillars in Florida that we look at in this list are the tiger swallowtail caterpillar, redhumped caterpillar, cecropia moth caterpillar, hag caterpillar, puss caterpillar, red admiral caterpillar, saddleback caterpillar, tussock moth caterpillar, and buck moth caterpillar.

1. Tiger swallowtail caterpillar

Tiger swallowtail caterpillar
Tiger swallowtail caterpillar | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio glaucus

The tiger swallowtail caterpillar can be found throughout Florida, mostly on trees such as birch, ash, cottonwood, tulip trees, willow, and wild black cherry.

These caterpillars are dark green, smooth, and have distinctive black dots with a light green ring and white center that looks like eyes on the top of their head.

They use their prominent “eyespots” to scare off predators. Another defensive mechanism they have is an organ on their head. When they feel threatened, it appears and looks like a forked snake tongue.

2. Redhumped caterpillar

redhumped caterpillar
Redhumped caterpillar | image by Christina Butler via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Schizura concinna

The redhumped caterpillar has a yellow, black, and white striped body, a cherry-red head, and soft horn-like growth. They get their name from the band of red humps on their bodies.

You can find these caterpillars in Florida on willow trees, walnut, fruit trees, and cottonwood. They can cause infestations for these trees that occur most severely during the summer.

3. Cecropia moth caterpillar

Cecropia moth caterpillar
Cecropia Moth Caterpillar | image by ImagesBYap via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Hyalophora cecropia

The cecropia moth caterpillar is an unusual-looking species. They have bright green bodies with ridged segments and orange and blue tubercles with black spikes. This large caterpillar grows around 4.5 inches long.

You can find them eating the leaves of various shrubs and trees, including wild cherry, birch, ash, box elder, willow, maple, and apple trees.

4. Hag caterpillar

Hag caterpillar
hag moth caterpillar | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Phobetron pithecium

The hag caterpillar is light brown with varying lengths of twisted and curved protrusions that look like disheveled hag hair. These protrusions along their body also have poisonous spines extending from them.

You can usually find them in the spring and summer. Their host plants include apple trees, birches, ashes, dogwoods, and chestnuts.

5. Puss caterpillar

Puss caterpillar
Puss caterpillar

Scientific name: Megalopyge opercularis

The puss caterpillar has hair-like bristles and an orange streak running down its back. While they may look interesting, these caterpillars are the most venomous in the U.S. They have toxic spines under their bristles that will stick to your skin and cause radiating pain.

You can commonly find them during the fall and spring in Florida around oak and elm trees. They make their cocoons with a thin silk framework using their bristles and then attach themselves to branches or small twigs.

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6. Red admiral caterpillar

Red admiral caterpillar
red admiral caterpillar | image by Dean Morley via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta

The red admiral caterpillar is a black, spiky caterpillar with spines and tiny white dots. As they grow, they will turn grayish-brown with brown or dark red spots on the sides. These small caterpillars grow around 1-inch long and become beautiful red and black butterflies.

You can find these caterpillars throughout Florida. They feed on host plants from the nettle family, such as the stinging nettle, common nettle, and nettle leaf.

7. Saddleback caterpillar

Saddleback caterpillar on a leaf
Saddleback caterpillar on a leaf | image by Katja Schulz via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Acharia stimulea

The saddleback caterpillar has a unique look and gets its name from the green patch on their back that has an oval purplish-brown spot in the center. The rest of the body is also purplish brown with four large projections and smaller hairs on the sides. These projections have poisonous spines and the sting is a defensive mechanism to prevent predators from eating them.

They grow around an inch long and can be found throughout Florida. Plants they feed on include blueberries, corn, elms, oaks, apple, citrus, and asters.

8. Tussock moth caterpillar

Tussock moth caterpillar
Tussock moth caterpillar

Scientific name: Orgyia leucostigma

The tussock moth caterpillar is common throughout north-central Florida and typically spin their cocoons on boats, picnic tables, and houses. They usually have dark or yellowish-green bodies with a red head and tufts of hair on their back and rear.

The caterpillar’s hairs and cocoon can lead to an allergic reaction causing an itchy rash. Watch out, since these rash outbreaks have happened in Florida schools, playgrounds, and daycare facilities.

9. Buck moth caterpillar

Buck moth caterpillar
Buck Moth caterpillar | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Hemileuca maia

In Florida, you can find buck moth caterpillars on their two main host trees of the willow and oak species. These caterpillars have a light and dark form, with the most common black-bodied dark form having small white dots.

They are also toxic, with glands releasing toxins when their spines break off into your skin. Symptoms can last between a day to over a week, including redness, stinging, and swelling.