Georgia is a beautiful state in the Southern United States. Within its borders, one can find a diverse landscape with mountains, valleys, coastal plains, shores, marshlands, and swamps. These areas are lush with trees, crops, and other vegetation. These all make for great homes and food for the state’s over 160 caterpillar species. Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies. Almost all species eat plant material.
15 Caterpillars in Georgia
From fuzzy and harmless to fuzzy and venomous, caterpillars in Georgia are well represented. Read on for descriptions and photos of 15 of them.
1. Hickory Horned Devil
Scientific name: Citheronia regalis
Growing to the size of a hot dog (about 5 inches), this caterpillar is the largest in Georgia. With its greenish blue body, black spikes, and colored horns, the Horn Devil looks like a small dragon. Despite their scary appearance, they are harmless to humans.
During the summer, the caterpillars will munch on walnut, pecan, ash, hickory, and filbert trees. Unlike other caterpillars, the Horn Devil will burrow at summer’s end and emerge next year as the Royal Walnut Moth.
2. Saddleback Moth Caterpillar
Scientific name: Acharia stimulea
This caterpillar is characterized by having brown on both sides of its green body. There’s a white-ringed brown spot in the middle that looks like a horse’s saddle. Horns protrude from both ends of its one-inch body.
The saddleback is venomous, which can cause a painful rash and swelling. More severe reactions have been gastrointestinal issues and even anaphylactic shock. Host trees include oak, maple, pecan, chestnut, and elm.
3. Puss Moth Caterpillar
Scientific name: Megalopyge opercularis
Also known as the Flannel moth caterpillar, this 1-inch-long species is known for its long, thick hair. A tannish-orange color, it resembles a wig. Their host plants include oak, elm, rose, and ivy.
Their fur contains venomous spines that are extremely painful for humans. People have described the feeling as similar to bone breaking! The sting can cause burning, swelling, rash, nausea, and headache.
4. Spiny Oak Moth Caterpillar
Scientific name: Euclea delphinii
This caterpillar will grow to be less than an inch. It’s characterized by a flat body with spiny horns up and down the sides and its body.
The Spiny Oak is venomous and its sting can cause mild itching to intense burning. Their preferred hosts are ash, apple, oak, ash, and birch trees.
5. American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
Scientific name: Acronicta americana
With their long, yellow hair that looks like a wig, they look cute enough. However, contact with them will cause an immediate reaction. Those hairs will break off into the skin causing itching, burning, and hives.
At 1.9 inches, they are found in playgrounds and parks. This species will feed off of maple and boxelder leaves.
6. Luna Moth Caterpillar
Scientific name: Actias luna
Also known as the American Moon Moth, and a giant silk moth, they can grow up to 3.5 inches long. Usually bright green, this caterpillar will eventually form yellow and magenta spots later in its growth.
A favorite of bats, the Luna moth will regurgitate its stomach contents when it feels threatened. The favorite host trees are white birch, persimmon, hickory, and walnut.
The luna moth is the only moth to have appeared on a United States postage stamp.
7. Queen Butterfly Caterpillar
Scientific name: Danaus gilippus
Found only in Southern Georgia, the Queen caterpillar grows to be 1 to 1.5 inches. They have 3 pairs of needle-like spikes sticking out from the top of their yellow, white, and black bodies. It’s common knowledge that butterflies are insects but is a caterpillar an insect, an arthropod, or both?
Non-venomous and safe to touch, they do taste terrible to predators due to their consumption of milkweed.
8. Thistle Caterpillar
Scientific name: Vanessa cardui
Also known as the Painted Lady caterpillar, it grows to be 1.75 inches long. Many branching spines cover a metallic green, blue, and brown body.
These caterpillars are safe to touch and non-venomous. Usually found in webbed leaves or on soybean, sunflower, or plain garden plants.
9. Orange Dog Caterpillar
Scientific name: Papilio cresphontes
This caterpillar will transform into the largest butterfly in North America, the Giant Swallowtail. A beautiful butterfly! However, in its caterpillar phase, it’s considered a giant pest to citrus farmers. This is where it gets its name Orange Dog.
Usually growing to 2 inches, it has unusual patterns and colorings that give it good camouflage from predators. It resembles bird droppings and apparently smells like them too. This caterpillar is non-venomous and not harmful to humans.
10. Red Admiral Caterpillar
Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta
Usually found in moist woods, forests, yards, and parks. This caterpillar will be about 1 inch and is black with white spots and spines. They are non-venomous and love nettle trees.
11. Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar
Scientific name: Battus philenor
This Swallowtail species is found anywhere its preferred host, the pipevine, is found. This includes woodlands, meadows, and even backyard gardens. Reaching 2.7 inches, they vary in color from reddish brown to brown with purple edges.
This caterpillar contains an acid that acts as a defense against predators, though they are harmless to humans.
12. Cabbage Worm Caterpillar
Scientific name: Pieris rapae
This caterpillar is small, thin, and velvety. Usually, green with yellow dots on the side, they’re about 1/2 to 3/4 inch long. Considered pests, they were introduced to Georgia through shipments of cabbage.
A cabbage worm will eat every part of the cabbage, kale, broccoli, and chard plants except the stem. It will emerge as the Cabbage white butterfly, one of the most abundant in Georgia.
13. Common Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillar
Scientific name: Junonia coenia
This caterpillar prefers open areas with low vegetation. Usually growing to be 1.5 inches, they are black with light-colored markings of white, gray, and beige. Its sides have white markings and orange spots.
Harmless spines adorn their heads and they are not venomous. The Buckeye loves plain rain, but will also munch on violet, cudweed, toadflax, and false foxglove.
14. Zebra Longwing Butterfly Caterpillar
Scientific name: Heliconius charithonia
This caterpillar is about 2 inches long and is white with black spots and spikes along its body. Making their homes in moist forests and meadows, their host plant is any type of passionflower. Harmless to humans, but toxic to predators.
15. White Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar
Scientific name: Anartia jatrophae
The White Peacock likes damp areas where its host plant grows. Occasionally, they can be found in red or cranberry, but are usually black and have spikes along their bodies.
Though it looks a bit scary, it’s harmless to humans. Their host plants are water hyssop, lemon bacopa, frog fruit, and petunia.