Heterocampa Caterpillar: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Heterocampa Caterpillar is a fascinating species of moth larvae that can be found in various regions of North America. These caterpillars are often seen munching on the leaves of deciduous trees, playing a vital role in the ecosystem.

One interesting aspect of Heterocampa Caterpillars is their wide range of appearances. Some specimens may sport vibrant colors, while others exhibit subdued shades, making identification a fun challenge for enthusiasts. As they eat their way through life, these caterpillars transform into moths before laying eggs and starting the lifecycle again.

No two Heterocampa Caterpillars are created equal; they all showcase different colors, patterns, or structures. Keep an eye out for these intriguing creatures as they munch away on your backyard foliage. And remember, they’re nature’s little helpers, performing essential tasks in our environment.

Heterocampa Caterpillar Overview

Heterocampa caterpillars belong to a diverse group of species, and are known for their unique appearances. They come in various colors, such as green and white, making them stand out among other caterpillars.

As they mature, Heterocampa caterpillars transform into adult moths. These moths, often fuzzy in appearance, vary in color and size depending on the specific species.

Characteristics:

  • Distinct colors, including green and white
  • Diverse group of species
  • Transform into moths as adults

For an example, the green Heterocampa caterpillar feeds on oak leaves, making them common in areas with plenty of oak trees. In contrast, the white Heterocampa is more prevalent in deciduous forests where they feed on a variety of leaves.

When comparing the green and white Heterocampa caterpillars, it’s important to note their differences in appearance, habitat preference, and the plants they feed on. Here’s a brief comparison table:

Green Heterocampa White Heterocampa
Green in color White in color
Feeds on oak leaves Feeds on various leaves
Found near oak trees Found in deciduous forests

In summary, Heterocampa caterpillars are fascinating creatures due to their distinct colors, diverse species, and transformation into moths. Whether you happen upon a green or white caterpillar, you’ll know you’re witnessing a unique member of the Heterocampa family.

Physical Characteristics and Identification

Color Variations

Heterocampa caterpillars exhibit a wide range of colors, including:

  • Black
  • Brown
  • Tan
  • Pink
  • Gray
  • Purple
  • Fuchsia

These colors help them blend into their surroundings and avoid predators.

Size and Markings

Heterocampa caterpillars vary in size, but generally:

  • Grow up to 2 inches long
  • Display unique markings, such as the white-blotched Heterocampa
Species Color Marking
White-blotched Brown Distinct white blotches
Heterocampa umbrata Purple Thin white lines and dark bands

Anatomy

The anatomy of a Heterocampa caterpillar includes:

  • Distinct head
  • Segmented body
  • Soft, fleshy texture

With these features, they can navigate their environment and find food.

Lifecycle and Behavior

Larva Stage

The Heterocampa caterpillar is a member of the Notodontidae family, which includes species such as Heterocampa umbrata and Heterocampa obliqua. These larvae can be found feeding on various types of leaves, usually in wooded areas.

  • Characteristics:
    • Insects
    • Woodland moths
    • Nocturnal
    • Attracted to lights

During the larva stage of Heterocampa caterpillars, they feed on various leaves from deciduous trees, such as oaks, birches, and beech. As they mature, their coloration and markings may change, making identification a bit more challenging.

Adult Moths

As Heterocampa caterpillars transition into adult moths, they become nocturnal woodland insects. They are often attracted to artificial lights, making encounters with humans more likely. Here are some features of adult moths:

  • Generally nocturnal
  • Attracted to lights
Heterocampa umbrata Heterocampa obliqua
Adult moth is brown or gray with soft curves in wing pattern Adult moth has a more distinct wing pattern with a strong curve
Underwing pattern appears more diffused and less prominently edged Underwing pattern is bolder with distinct marks and a-dark edge

In conclusion, the Heterocampa caterpillar and adult moths exhibit interesting behaviors and characteristics, making them an intriguing subject for those interested in entomology and nocturnal woodland insects.

Habitat and Range

The Heterocampa caterpillar belongs to the Genus Heterocampa, part of the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, and order Lepidoptera. They are found throughout various parts of America ranging from Canada down to Mexico. Heterocampa caterpillars are commonly found in forests where they inhabit a variety of tree and plant species.

For instance, Heterocampa biundata, a species within this genus, is known to feed on different tree species like oak and maple. These caterpillars can become pests, causing damage to a number of trees and plants while they feed.

Here are some key characteristics of Heterocampa caterpillars:

  • Belong to the Animalia kingdom
  • Part of the phylum Arthropoda
  • Fall under the class Insecta
  • Members of the order Lepidoptera

Heterocampa caterpillars are diverse and their range varies across different regions in North America. They can inhabit various forest types, making them adaptable creatures in their environment.

Host Plants and Impact

The Heterocampa caterpillar, specifically Heterocampa guttivita, is found across the United States. They primarily feed on maple trees, which serves as their host plants. Other host plants include oak, elm, and willow trees.

  • Maple trees
  • Oak trees
  • Elm trees
  • Willow trees

When identifying Heterocampa caterpillars, keep an eye out for their distinct looks. They can change color as they grow, making photos helpful for identification purposes. The change in color is a result of their adaptation to their surroundings, which contributes to their survival.

Characteristics Heterocampa Caterpillar
Host Plants Maple, Oak, Elm, Willow
Color Change Yes
Identification Aid Photos
Distribution United States

The impact of Heterocampa caterpillars may vary depending on the type and their host plants. In some cases, they might cause defoliation or damage to the foliage. As a result, it’s essential to identify and manage these caterpillars when necessary.

Remember, when trying to identify Heterocampa caterpillars:

  1. Observe their host plants.
  2. Look for color changes.
  3. Use photos as a guide.

By understanding the host plants and impact of Heterocampa caterpillars, you’ll be better prepared to identify and manage them in your environment.

Classification and Taxonomy

The Heterocampa caterpillar belongs to the kingdom Animalia, phylum Arthropoda, subphylum Hexapoda, class Insecta, order Lepidoptera, superfamily Noctuoidea, family Notodontidae, and subfamily Heterocampinae1. These caterpillars are closely related to other species such as butterflies, owlet moths, and prominent moths.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Hexapoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Superfamily: Noctuoidea
  • Family: Notodontidae
  • Subfamily: Heterocampinae

Arthropods, like Heterocampa caterpillars, are invertebrates with external skeletons, segmented bodies, and jointed limbs. Hexapods, including caterpillars, possess six legs.

Adult moths of the Heterocampa genus are medium-sized, nocturnal insects2. Their caterpillars exhibit diverse colors and patterns, allowing them to blend with their environment. Host plants for these caterpillars include numerous tree species, such as oaks, birches, and willows3. However, their feeding habits and life cycles may vary depending on specific species.

Below is a comparison between subfamilies within the Notodontidae family:

Feature Heterocampinae Prominent Moths (Notodontinae)
Feeding Habit Feeds on leaves of various tree species Feeds on leaves of various tree species
Color Diverse colors and patterns Diverse colors and patterns, often more cryptic
Wingspan Medium-sized moth (varies by species) Medium to large-sized moth (varies by species)

As for the pros and cons of studying Heterocampa caterpillars:

Pros:

  • Enhances understanding of biodiversity
  • Contributes to the study of insect ecology and evolution
  • Provides valuable information for pest management

Cons:

  • Limited commercial or agricultural significance
  • Identification and classification can be challenging due to variation among species

Footnotes

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4450/11/9/609

  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259176948

  3. http://bugguide.net/node/view/50737

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Heterocampa species

 

Purple and Pink Caterpillar!!!
This weirdo caterpillar is purple and pink!!! I have no idea what this is, hoping you can help.
Danika

Hi Danika,
Your purple and pink caterpillar is in the genus Heterocampa.

Letter 2 – Heterocampa Caterpillar

 

Our new friend…
Hi,
Our neighbor found this caterpillar in her backyard. I asked her if we could have it. We want to raise it for our homeschool. We just need to know what type of caterpillar he is and what he eats. I am sure that he is a fairly common type, I just don’t know what it is. We put fresh leaves in from our live oak tree for now. I also sent a picture of him to our local Museum of Science and Industry. They have a butterfly garden there and we have released Painted Ladies which we raised in there. She suggested your site. Thank you for any help you can give us.
Dee

Hi Dee,
Your caterpillar is in the genus Heterocampa, many of which feed on oaks. Our best guesses are the Saddled Prominent, Heterocampa guttivitta which also feeds on maple, beech and apple, or Heterocampa obliqua, but the species are often variable and difficult to distinguish from one another. It will metamorphose into a nondescript brown prominent moth.

Letter 3 – Heterocampa Caterpillar

 

Subject: Red caterpillar
Location: VA
September 17, 2015 4:04 pm
Pretty guy crawling in the piedmont of Virginia? What is he?
Signature: Bill

Prominent Moth Caterpillar
Prominent Moth Caterpillar

Dear Bill,
This is a Prominent Moth Caterpillar in the genus Heterocampa, and this individual identified as a White Blotched Heterocampa on BugGuide looks very similar, though many other species in the genus also look similar.

Letter 4 – Heterocampa Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Central Pennsylvania
August 21, 2016 4:20 pm
I found this caterpillar on a sidewalk in central PA today, August 21 . I’m not sure what it is, Can you help identify it? I am thinking it’s a moth larvae, but not sure what kind.
Thanks!
Signature: Dana

Heterocampa Catepillar
Heterocampa Catepillar

Dear Dana,
This is a Prominent Moth Caterpillar and we strongly suspect it is in the genus
Heterocampa.  The genus Heterocampa contains many similar looking species, but this BugGuide image of Heterocampa umbrata looks very close.  According to BugGuide:  “The larvae feed on oaks (Quercus). Two generations per year in much of range, multiple generations in Florida.”

Thank you! I thought Heterocampa too when I was searching, but wasn’t sure which species. I’m glad to know that oaks are a host. Now I now where to return it to.

Judging by the color, we believe it is pre-pupal, meaning it is not longer needing to eat, and it is searching for a suitable location to pupate.

Letter 5 – Heterocampa Caterpillar metamorphoses into Moth

 

Heterocampa?
I dug up this 1 1⁄2”, pink caterpillar while working in the garden October 6, 2005 and placed it in a container of moist soil in my workshop. On October 27 it had hatched and was then found on the wall of the shop where I photographed it and then released without touching. The moth, about 1 1/8” long has some faint but dark green on the wings. The under wing is mostly white. I am guessing that it was eating from an oak tree, but that is only a guess. Does it have a name?
Thank you,
Glenn MacRill
Houston , TX
Please do not publish my email address.

Hi Glenn,
Yes this is a Heterocampa species. We don’t feel confident enough identifying individual species. They do belong in the Prominent Moth family, but that is the best common name we can offer. Thanks for the photos, the first adult we have received. By the way, we never publish email addresses.

Letter 6 – Heterocampa species

 

Unidentified caterpillar
Hello!
I hope you can tell me what this is. We found it in a pile of dead Live Oak leaves but it would not eat them. We have tried asparagus fern and other plants that were nearby, but so far it has not eaten a thing. This caterpillar is pale lime green with brown teardrop shaped eyes, and has a geometric pattern on its back. The pattern consists of two elongated diamond shapes which are lighter green and are outlined in light brown. The diamond shapes have a dashed green line proceeding up the center, and I have seen the “dashes” dissappear and reappear from the tail toward the head as it crawls, somewhat like lights around a movie marquee sign. There is a dotted line of light brown spots up each side of the body with each body segment having a dot in its center. Do you know what this is? I would like to know what it eats.
Thank-you very much!
Dawn Michel
Orlando, FL

Hi Dawn,
This is a caterpillar in the genus Heterocampa. Offhand, we can’t say what they eat, but armed with the name, you should be able to find out easily.

Letter 7 – Oblique Heterocampa Caterpillar

 

Subject: A shiny green visitor!
Location: Near Altmar, NY
August 25, 2015 9:20 am
We live in a rural area about 40 miles north of Syracuse, New York, close to a now extinct village called Altmar. Our property borders wooded state land which surrounds a beaver pond that is also on the back of our woods. We recently had the sad experience of having to remove a large maple tree due to disease. It had started not even as tall as our home but by the time we removed it, it was towering over it. In cutting wood from the downed tree and sorting out leafy branches, this bug ended up on my husband’s pants. It is very unusual looking with a shiny light green smooth surface and it walked like a caterpillar. We’d never seen anything like it in the 20 years we’ve lived in this house. I took this picture as soon as we saw it on August 23.
Thanks for any help identifying our little green visitor!
Signature: Lisa P

Oblique Heterocampa Caterpillar
Oblique Heterocampa Caterpillar

Dear Lisa,
As two days have passed between the time you took the image and the time you wrote to us, we hope you relocated to another maple tree this Prominent Moth Caterpillar, possibly the Oblique Heterocampa due to its resemblance to the individual in this BugGuide image.

Oblique Heterocampa Caterpillar
Oblique Heterocampa Caterpillar

Our property is probably 80% maple trees and we did bring him back over to the woods after we took the picture! (My husband just told me he actually put him on a maple directly.) Thanks for the info! 🙂

Letter 8 – Traumatized White Blotched Heterocampa Caterpillar

 

Caterpillars
Location: Clarks Summit,Pennsylvania
August 8, 2011 10:49 am
I found this in the middle of my cousins driveway and i’m not sure what it is.
Signature: Joey M

Traumatized Prominent Moth Caterpillar

Hi Joey,
This is a Prominent Moth Caterpillar in the genus
Heterocampa.  Compare your individual to this image on BugGuide.  It is a typically green caterpillar, and just prior to metamorphosis, it frequently turns pink.  Judging by the unnatural anal discharge, we fear this individual has been traumatized to the point that it will not live to see its winged stage.  It appears to have been squished.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

10 thoughts on “Heterocampa Caterpillar: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. My little girl came in from playing and said she found a pink caterpillar. So, my 12 year old son and I went out to collect it for her in a jar. It was on our deck after a rain. I Googled it and found out what it was..a heterocampus larvae. When I found out what it eats and that it pupates in the soil we immediately put about 3-4 inches of soil in our jar. The caterpillar immediately burrowed into it. We are excited to observe how long it takes to mature. We collected it in ila, georgia, on September 8, 2014.

    Reply
  2. I found one by an old oak tree and decided to keep it for a while. It’s still alive, but it’s not doing so well. My little Brother named it Crispy. Don’t ask me why…

    Reply
  3. I found a pink heterocampa umbrata caterpillar. Are these a tree damaging species that I should eradicate?
    THANKS

    Reply
  4. I found a pink heterocampa umbrata caterpillar. Are these a tree damaging species that I should eradicate?
    THANKS

    Reply

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