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14 Types of Yellow Caterpillars (With Pictures)

You’ve most likely encountered a yellow caterpillar while walking through the woods or in your garden. Given their unusual color, you might also wonder if these yellow insects are safe to touch. These insects are often brightly colored to warn predators that they are dangerous and unsafe. While some types of yellow caterpillars are toxic, other species are not.

Here’s a list of 14 North American yellow caterpillars, along with some information about each one.

14 Types of yellow caterpillars

1. American Dagger Caterpillar

american dagger caterpillar
American Dagger Caterpillar | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Acronicta americana

The American dagger caterpillar is a moth larva found in North America. It’s a fuzzy caterpillar covered in yellow setae with four long black bristles on its body. These bristles can break off and embed in the skin, releasing toxins that can cause stinging sensations when touched.

If you come across one of these species, it’s best to leave it alone. The larvae can be found on a variety of trees, including oak, birch, alder, ash, elm, maple, oak, willow, and other trees in yards, forests, and gardens.

2. Yellow-necked Caterpillar

Yellow necked caterpillar
Group of yellow-necked caterpillar | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Datana ministra

The yellow-necked larva is a caterpillar species that feeds on oak, walnut, and birch trees. This group of yellow-necked larvae will consume the leaves, leaving only the vein. They’re identified by their black color with yellow stripes down their backs, which is how they got their name.

This color is visible on mature larvae, whereas young larvae are reddish-brown with white stripes. They can also reach a length of 1.9 inches. You can find yellow-necked caterpillars from Canada to the Rocky Mountains and California.

3. Silver-spotted Skipper Caterpillar

silver spotted skipper caterpillar
Silver-spotted Skipper Caterpillar | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Epargyreus clarus

You can find the silver-spotted skipper caterpillar in the United States and Canada. It’s distinguished by its bright yellow coloring and black stripes. Its head is black or reddish-brown in color, and its legs are orange.

They’re mostly found in meadows and swamps, where they use the plant’s leaves to hide from predators. These caterpillars have been observed silking leaves together to form a leaf shelter, where they live and only come out to eat. They also eat a variety of pea family plants, including wisteria, black locust, and false indigo.

4. Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar | Image by Wayne from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus

The monarch caterpillar is a species that inhabits forests, fields, and gardens. It prefers milkweed plants as a host, and it feeds on the leaves of those plants. They eat the white sap of these plants, which makes them poisonous and unpleasant to their predators.

The caterpillar is 2 to 4 cm long and has yellow, black, and white stripes on its body. This brightly colored larva can be found all over North America. They mature into monarch butterflies with a striking appearance.

5. Yellow Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Yellow spotted tussock moth caterpillar
Yellow spotted tussock moth caterpillar | image by Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Lophocampa maculata

The yellow-spotted tussock moth larva is a hairy caterpillar found in North America. It lives on a wide range of host plants, including birches, maples, oaks, poplars, and willows.

This caterpillar is multicolored, with black on the ends and a yellow or orange center section. There will also be some black spots on their body as well as long white lashes, which can cause irritation and allergic reactions.

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6. Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

Cinnabar moth caterpillar
Cinnabar moth caterpillar on plants | image by Lennart Tange via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Tyria jacobaeae

Cinnabar moth caterpillars are known to consume poisonous ragwort leaves. This gives them an unpleasant taste, causing their predators to avoid them. The species is also known to eat other cinnabar larvae to survive if food is scarce.

They’re introduced to North America as ragwort biological controls, but they’re native to Europe and Asia. The body of the caterpillar is striped black and yellow-orange, which may be paler or darker depending on the stage of the species.

7. Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Banded tussock moth caterpillar
Banded tussock moth caterpillar on log | image by Katja Schulz via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Halysidota tessellaris

Banded tussock moth larva is a yellow bushy caterpillar with long black and white bristles on its head and two more black bristles that resemble lashes on its back. They’re most active from summer to autumn, feeding on willow, tulip, oak, and birch tree leaves.

Unlike other bristly caterpillars, such as the American Dagger Caterpillar, this species doesn’t contain toxins but can still cause rashes when touched. It’s best to handle it while wearing gloves or some other covering that will keep your skin from coming into contact with its hairy body.

8. Banded Sphinx

banded sphinx caterpillar
Banded sphinx caterpillar on a leaf | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McCl via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Eumorpha fasciatus

The banded sphinx caterpillar can be distinguished by the patterns and stripes you can find down its back and sides. The multicolor variation of this species has a yellow-green body with black horizontal stripes and white diagonal stripes on the sides, as well as rows of red throughout the body.

They also have other variations, such as green, pink, black, and red. The larvae grow to about 3 inches long and feed primarily on primrose-willow and other evening primrose plants.

9. Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Caterpillar

Grapeleaf skeletonizer caterpillar
Grapeleaf skeletonizer caterpillar on a leaf | image by Judy Gallagher via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Harrisina americana

The grapeleaf skeletonizer caterpillar is a tiny insect that only measures about half an inch long. Its body is yellow with black bands or spots on the back. They’re also covered in setae, which can cause rashes when they come into contact with skin.

This species would eat wild grapes and Virginia creepers, as implied by its name. They are usually found munching on the underleaf, so these creatures may be difficult to spot.

10. White-Marked Tussock Moth

white marked tussock moth
White-marked tussock moth on twig | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Orgyia leucostigma

The caterpillar of the white-marked tussock moth is found throughout North America, including Texas, California, and Alberta. This species is distinguished by its unique appearance, which includes a bright red head and yellow stripes on the body. Like other tussock caterpillars, they’re also covered in setae that can irritate the skin.

The larvae feed on apple, elm, maple, oak, plums, redbud, sycamore, walnut, and willow trees. They can be found in places where these trees are abundant, such as forests, plantations, and urban areas.

11. White-Lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

white lined sphinx moth caterpillar
White-lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar | image by Renee Grayson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Hyles lineata

White-lined sphinx moth Caterpillar is a brightly colored creature native to Canada and Central America. This species is usually green with yellow stripes down its sides. In addition, spots of orange and black are lining these stripes.

Since this creature has different variations, some may have black and white spots. They also have a back horn that can be orange or yellow in color. The horn isn’t a stinger, so you won’t need to be concerned about it.

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This species feeds on grapes, willow weeds, four o’clock, and apples. You can find these caterpillars in deserts, gardens, and suburban areas where these host plants can be found.

12. Calico Paint Caterpillar

Brown-hooded owlet caterpillar on grass
Brown-hooded owlet caterpillar on grass | image by Benny Mazur via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Cucullia convexipennis

The larval form of the calico moth is the calico paint caterpillar. These creatures have black bodies with yellow lines running down the sides toward the back. Typically, the larvae are found in the United States and parts of Canada.

They’re also found in areas where their host plants are found, and they primarily feed on aster and goldenrod plants.

13. Zebra Caterpillar

Zebra caterpillar
Zebra caterpillar on fence | image by nottawasaga via iNaturalist

Scientific Name: Melanchra picta

The zebra caterpillar is a species of black larva with alternating white stripes and markings, as well as yellow lines along its sides. Because the white and black stripes resemble zebra stripes, this species is known as a zebra caterpillar.

As larvae, this species can grow to be 1.6 inches long and is commonly found in cities, trees, and gardens. They eat a wide variety of plants, mostly crops like cabbages, beets, and other cultivated plants, but they also eat flowers and some species of trees.

14. Stinging Rose Caterpillar

Stinging rose caterpillar
Stinging rose caterpillar at rest | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McCl via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Parasa indetermina

The caterpillar of the stinging rose is a vibrant species that has a bright red body with pairs of yellow horns on the sides and can grow to be less than an inch long. These horns are filled with fluids that can sting predators and other animals that try to eat them.

This species is found in North American forests and brushlands from New York to Florida and up to Texas. It feeds on a variety of plants, including roses, cottonwood, oaks, and apples, among many others.

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