How to Identify Woolly Bear Fuzzy Caterpillars

Woolly bear caterpillars are known by several names, including the fuzzy bear and hedgehog caterpillar. They all have one thing in common, however -- their fuzzy appearance. The woolly bear caterpillar most often appears in the fall, and has specific markings that allow outdoor enthusiasts to identify it. To distinguish a woolly bear caterpillar from another caterpillar, look at its color, its body features and where it was found.

Woolly bear caterpillar moth
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Tiger Moth Caterpillar
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Examine the color. Woolly bear caterpillars usually are two-toned, with a rusty orange-colored band in the middle and black tips at the ends. The width of the bands may vary, but are always in a black-orange-black pattern.

Tiger Moth Caterpillar
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Look at the caterpillar's body features. Woolly bear caterpillars have 13 segments to their bodies, each covered in fuzz. They also have tiny eyes, often hidden by the fuzzy exterior.

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Two Isabella tiger moths on a leaf.

Take note of the environment in which the caterpillar was found. They often are seen in the fall in areas of the country that experience seasonal weather, and may be found under logs and bark -- locations where they spend the winter months. They also may be seen in the spring for a short period of time before they begin forming their cocoons -- eventually turning into tiger moths.

beads on the leaf
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Check what the caterpillar is eating. If observed while eating, woolly bear caterpillars typically eat herbs, clovers, grass and other greens. Occasionally, according to Iowa State University Entomology, they may be cannibalistic.

Woolly bear caterpillar
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A woolly bear caterpillar outdoors on a spring day.

Look at the habitat. When active, woolly bear caterpillars often are found along the edges of roads, and in meadows, uncultivated fields and pastures.

Christine Bryant

Christine Bryant has been a writer for more than 10 years, working in the newspaper and magazine industries in the Richmond, Va., Chicago and Columbus, Ohio areas. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.