Common Types of Caterpillars in Tennessee

Tennessee is arguably one of the most beautiful states in the United States. It boasts stunning mountains, rivers and wildlife of all kinds. One type of wildlife crawling around the Volunteer State is caterpillars. Whether you encounter them in the wild or in your own garden, there are many common types of caterpillars roaming around Tennessee.

Monarch Caterpillar
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Common Types of Caterpillars in Tennessee

Monarch Caterpillar

This is one of the most well-known caterpillars in the world because of its bright, distinctive colors, which carry over into its life as a butterfly. The monarch caterpillar is banded with yellow, black and white stripes. The head is striped with yellow and black. These caterpillars can grow up to 5 centimeters in length. Monarchs can be seen fluttering around many Tennessee gardens.

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar

This destructive caterpillar is not native to Tennessee. In fact, gypsy moths were brought to this country from Europe in the 1860s. However, they are rapidly spreading throughout the south. Conservationists have put out many warnings for people to keep an eye out for the moth larvae or caterpillars.

Newly hatched gypsy moth caterpillars are black and have long, hair-like setae. As they age, the caterpillars have five pairs of raised blue spots and six pairs of raised dark red spots on their back, with fewer setae. Like the monarch caterpillar, they can grow to be five centimeters long.

Stinging Caterpillars

Stinging caterpillars have bristly hairs that are fragile hollow spines filled with venom. If they pierce human skin, the venom may cause pain, burning, swelling and prolonged itching. These symptoms can persist for days, in some cases.

The most populous stinging caterpillars to watch out for are the Io Moth, Puss Moth and Saddleback caterpillars. Io Moth caterpillars are light green to yellow with a red stripe bordered by a white stripe below running along its side. Puss Moth caterpillars have long, thick setae and can be light gray, golden brown or dark charcoal gray. Saddleback caterpillars are brown in the front and rear, and there is a brown spot surrounded by white in the middle of the back. The front and rear also feature two prominent horns.

Tent Caterpillars

Tent caterpillars might be described as cute and fuzzy. However, they are also a gardener's nightmare! They live in nests of 150 to 400 in the crooks of fruit trees. The nests are more like thick spider webs, and they are strong enough to keep the caterpillars safe and warm thoughout the winter. When the caterpillars hatch in the spring, they are hungry and immediately start eating the tree they were born on. A gardener's or arborist's best bet is to destroy the nests and eggs before they hatch. Tent caterpillars are black and golden in color.


Katherine Teel

Katherine Teel has been a professional writer and editor since 2006, and has been published with Westminster John Knox Press, Melisende Press and in several academic and religious journals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater, film and French, a Master of Divinity in theology and a Ph.D. in communications from the Aquinas Institute at St. Louis University.