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
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
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
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
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
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.
6. Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.