Caterpillars are the larval stage of moths and butterflies, and they come in an astonishing variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
Among the most striking are those with bold patterns of black and yellow, a color scheme that often serves as a warning to predators that these creatures might be toxic or foul-tasting.
In this article, we delve into the world of these fascinating creatures, showcasing 24 different species of black caterpillars with yellow stripes.
From the iconic Monarch caterpillar with its distinctive banding to the less well-known but equally intriguing Giant Sphinx caterpillar, each species is a marvel of nature with unique characteristics and behaviors.
Some of these caterpillars are widespread and familiar to many, while others are more obscure, leading lives hidden within specific host plants or in particular habitats.
The Zebra Caterpillar, belonging to the Noctuidae family, is notable for its striking pattern that mimics the appearance of a zebra with broad creamy-yellow and thinner black stripes, accented by reddish-brown undersides.
It is a feeder on various plants, including some crops, which can lead to agricultural damage.
Control measures for these caterpillars typically involve careful monitoring and may necessitate the use of insecticides in cases of large populations.
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
The Black Swallowtail Caterpillar, a member of the Papilionidae family, is distinguished by its black stripes and yellow dots against a green backdrop.
It exhibits a defensive behavior by protruding an osmeterium when threatened. This caterpillar prefers plants in the carrot family, which can lead to damage in gardens.
Management usually involves encouraging natural predators or manually removing the caterpillars when they are found in small numbers.
Amaryllis Borer Caterpillar
The Amaryllis Borer Caterpillar is part of the Sesiidae family and is identified by its cigar-shaped black body with pale yellow bands and tiny black dots.
It is known for boring into the bulbs of Amaryllis plants, causing significant damage. To manage this pest, infested bulbs should be removed and destroyed to prevent the spread of the larvae.
The Monarch Caterpillar, classified under the Nymphalidae family, is famous for its white, yellow, and black banding, with certain variants exhibiting more prominent yellow stripes.
It exclusively consumes milkweed, which makes it toxic to predators. The Monarch is not a significant plant pest, but its management is focused on conservation due to the species’ overall decline.
White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar
The White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar, from the Erebidae family, displays a combination of yellow and black colors, with additional white and red markings.
It consumes the foliage of various trees and shrubs. Although it typically does not cause severe damage, in large numbers, it can defoliate plants.
Management involves physical removal, and care should be taken due to the irritating hairs found on the caterpillar.
Yellow-Spotted Tussock Caterpillar
The Yellow-Spotted Tussock Caterpillar is easily identified by its unique pattern of yellow spots. It is a member of the Erebidae family and is known for its striking appearance.
The caterpillar typically feeds on a variety of deciduous trees and shrubs. While individual caterpillars do not usually cause significant damage, large infestations can defoliate host plants.
Management strategies include monitoring and, if necessary, the use of biological control agents.
Six-Spot Burnet Caterpillar
The Six-Spot Burnet Caterpillar, part of the Zygaenidae family, is characterized by its black body adorned with yellow spots or stripes.
This caterpillar is often found on clover and other leguminous plants, which it feeds on. While it is not considered a major pest, its feeding can reduce the aesthetic and potentially the health of host plants.
Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar
Belonging to the Sphingidae family, the Catalpa Sphinx Caterpillar can be identified by yellow stripes or patterns on its black body. It specifically targets catalpa trees, where it can cause significant defoliation.
Despite this, the caterpillar is often tolerated due to its role in the life cycle of the sphinx moth, and because catalpa trees typically recover from the damage. If necessary, control can be achieved through manual removal.
Caterpillars of the Anisota genus, within the Saturniidae family, may feature elongated narrow yellow stripes and are notable for the horn-like structures on their heads.
These caterpillars are typically found on oak trees, which they feed on, and can cause noticeable defoliation.
Management of Anisota species caterpillars involves monitoring oak trees for signs of damage and, if needed, implementing control measures such as manual removal or the application of insecticides.
Giant Sphinx Caterpillar
The Giant Sphinx Caterpillar is a member of the Sphingidae family and is recognized by its yellow stripes on a jet-black body, complemented by an orange tail, head, and prolegs.
This caterpillar feeds on a range of plants, including grape and Virginia creeper. While it can cause some defoliation, it is generally not considered a significant pest.
Management of the Giant Sphinx Caterpillar typically involves natural predation or manual removal if found in large numbers.
Leopard Lily Borer Caterpillar
The Leopard Lily Borer Caterpillar, with its distinctive leopard-like black spots on a yellow and black body, is a visually striking member of the Lepidoptera order.
It primarily targets lily plants, where it can cause significant damage by boring into the stems and leaves.
Management of these caterpillars typically involves inspecting plants for signs of damage and removing any caterpillars by hand to prevent further destruction.
Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar
The Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar is known for its vivid black and yellow stripes and is commonly found on ragwort in grassy habitats.
As a member of the Arctiidae family, this caterpillar plays a role in controlling the spread of ragwort, a toxic plant.
While it is not considered a pest, its presence is often encouraged as a natural regulator of this weed. No specific management is usually required for the Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar.
The Nettle Caterpillar, which may have a yellow stripe or series of markings down each side, is a black caterpillar that feeds on stinging nettles.
This caterpillar can be a nuisance in areas where nettles are unwanted. However, since stinging nettles are not typically cultivated plants, the Nettle Caterpillar is often left unchecked unless it poses a problem for land managers or gardeners.
Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Also known as the yellow-spotted tiger moth, the Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar has black and yellow segments with a series of spots.
It feeds on a variety of broadleaf plants and can occasionally cause defoliation.
If necessary, management can include manual removal or the use of biological control agents, especially in areas where the caterpillar’s feeding habits conflict with plant conservation or agricultural practices.
Six-Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar
The Six-Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar, which is black with yellow spots, is typically found on clover and other legumes.
It is a member of the Zygaenidae family and, while it feeds on these plants, it usually does not cause enough damage to warrant control measures. In most cases, the Six-Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar is considered a benign presence in its natural habitat.
Clouded Yellow Butterfly Caterpillar
Caterpillars of the Clouded Yellow Butterfly, which belong to the Pieridae family, are characterized by their black coloration with fine yellow lines and spots.
They are commonly found on leguminous plants, including cultivated species such as peas and beans.
Although they feed on these plants, they are usually not present in sufficient numbers to cause serious damage, and specific management practices are not typically required.
Scarlet Tiger Moth Caterpillar
The Scarlet Tiger Moth Caterpillar is part of the Arctiidae family and is recognized by its black body adorned with yellow stripes and spots. It is a generalist feeder on a variety of herbaceous plants.
While it can be found in many gardens and fields, it typically does not cause significant damage to the plants it feeds on. Control measures are rarely needed unless the caterpillars are present in large numbers.
Mullein Moth Caterpillar
The Mullein Moth Caterpillar, a member of the Noctuidae family, has a distinctive appearance with black, yellow, and white markings.
It feeds on mullein and figwort, and while it can cause noticeable damage to these plants, it is generally not considered a major pest. Management usually involves the manual removal of caterpillars if they are causing undesirable levels of damage.
Garden Tiger Moth Caterpillar
The Garden Tiger Moth Caterpillar, from the Erebidae family, is known for its black body with yellow stripes and notably hairy appearance. It feeds on a diverse range of garden plants.
Although it can defoliate plants in large numbers, it is often tolerated due to its role in the ecosystem and the moth’s attractive appearance. Management is typically not necessary unless the caterpillars are causing significant damage.
Yellow-tail Moth Caterpillar
The Yellow-tail Moth Caterpillar, which is part of the Erebidae family, can be identified by its black body with yellow stripes and a distinctive tuft of yellow hairs at the end of its body. It feeds on a variety of deciduous trees and shrubs.
In most cases, the caterpillars do not cause enough damage to be considered pests, and thus, they are usually left alone. If needed, management can include manual removal, especially in smaller gardens or where high aesthetic value is placed on the foliage.
Buff-tip Moth Caterpillar
The Buff-tip Moth Caterpillar is part of the Notodontidae family. Its black and yellow stripes serve as effective camouflage, allowing it to mimic the appearance of a broken twig when at rest.
This caterpillar feeds on a variety of deciduous trees, and while it can strip sections of foliage, it is usually not harmful enough to require control measures.
The natural regeneration of the trees typically compensates for the feeding damage.
Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar
The Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar, a member of the Nymphalidae family, is black with an array of white and yellow spots. It primarily consumes nettles, which can lead to localized defoliation.
However, since nettles are often abundant and can withstand a considerable amount of feeding, intervention is rarely necessary. The caterpillar’s feeding activity is generally considered beneficial for the growth of nettles.
Common Yellow Underwing Caterpillar
Belonging to the Noctuidae family, the Common Yellow Underwing Caterpillar is characterized by its black body with fine yellow lines. It feeds on a variety of grasses and low plants.
Typically, the caterpillar does not inflict significant damage to lawns or natural grasslands, and its presence is often unnoticed.
Management is not usually required unless there is a particularly high population density affecting ornamental or crop plants.
Burnished Brass Moth Caterpillar
The Burnished Brass Moth Caterpillar, from the Noctuidae family, displays a striking pattern of black with yellow and metallic spots or stripes.
It feeds on a wide range of herbaceous plants and is not known to cause significant damage to cultivated plants or crops.
In conclusion, the diverse array of black caterpillars with yellow stripes featured in this article highlights the rich variety within the Lepidoptera order.
While they share a common color theme, each species exhibits unique patterns and behaviors that contribute to the ecological diversity of their respective habitats.
From the camouflage experts like the Buff-tip Moth Caterpillar to the nettles’ consumer, the Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar, these creatures play specific roles in nature’s cycle.
Most of these caterpillars are not considered pests, and their feeding activity rarely necessitates human intervention.
In fact, many are integral to controlling weed populations or serving as food for other wildlife.
Understanding and appreciating the role of these caterpillars is crucial for gardeners, farmers, and naturalists alike.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about caterpillars. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Impatiens Hawkmoth Caterpillar
White Lined Sphinx Caterpillar…or not?
I was going through some old photos I have and I came across a photo of a caterpiller i took one day in my backyard. Then curiousity led me to go through your whole caterpilla archive but I couldn’t find one that looks like this one, but from looking at your archive, it resembles a white lined sphinx but they dont have the smaller dots near their head. So, just wondering, am I right or is it something else? By the way, love your site. Had fun looking at exotic bugs! Thanks!
Cheryl (Sydney, Australia)
We found several websites devoted to Australian caterpillars, but the Sphingidae of Australia website helped us identify your Impatiens Hawk Moth Caterpillar, Theretra oldenlandiae.
Letter 2 – Impatiens Hornworm from Japan
Location: Kanto Plain, Japan
September 25, 2010 6:10 am
Hello, we live on a military base in Japan and I found a bunch of these guys snacking on my Impatiens. THey were passing up the begonias…but the impatiens were stripped clean. Any ideas?
We had spent considerable time trying somewhat unsuccessfully to conclusively identify your Hornworm Caterpillar in the family Sphingidae, moths commonly called Hawkmoths or Sphinx Moths, before our search ended with a match that satisfies us. Your specimen somewhat resembles a dark morph of the caterpillar of the species Hippotion rosetta which we located on a Sphingidae of Japan website. There are better images of the caterpillar on the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic website, but the yellow bands visible on your specimen are not represented in the photos on that site. There are four other species in the genus listed on the Sphingidae of Japan website, but several do not include photos of the caterpillars. The caterpillar of Hippotion boerhaviae pictured on the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic website was another possibility. The Bedstraw Hawkmoth, Hyles gallii, is a wide ranging species with a highly variable caterpillar and it is native to Japan as evidenced by its inclusion in the Sphingidae of Japan website, and that caterpillar also shares some similar traits with your specimen. Then we found an exact match to your caterpillar, listed only as the Impatiens Hawk Moth Caterpillar on Flickr, but alas, there was no scientific name. We became excited because the plant in your photo is an impatiens. That thread led us to the Natural Japan website where we found the scientific name of the Impatiens Hawkmoth to be Theretra oldenlandiae. We then headed back to the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic website and found an exact match to your caterpillar with another common name of Taro Hornworm. Matching images of caterpillars can also be found on the Sphingidae of Japan website.
Letter 3 – Impatiens Hawkmoth Caterpillar from Australia
Please help me identify this
Location: Gladstone, Queensland, Australia
December 2, 2010 1:57 am
Please can you help me id this catapillar. It was found in Central coastal Queensland Australia just today, beginning of summer.
Thank you for your help.
Signature: Regards, Kylie
Even though we didn’t answer your letter immediately, once we saw this caterpillar, we quickly identified it as an Impatiens Hawkmoth Caterpillar, on the Australian Caterpillars website.
Letter 4 – Impatiens Hornworm from Japan
Subject: Caterpillar ID
Location: Yokosuka City, Japan
August 15, 2016 10:12 pm
I live in Japan and found this caterpillar on our blackberries. I think it is a caterpillar for a Shingidae moth. Can you tell be the scientific name of the moth it will be?
Signature: Dale in Japan
Though we have images of an Impatiens Hornworm, Theretra oldenlandiae, from Japan in our archive, its coloration is different from your individual. We were able to verify its identity on Butterfly House.