Caterpillars, the larval stage for both butterflies and moths, garner a great deal of interest among entomologists and insect enthusiasts.
Three reasons for caterpillar popularity immediately spring to mind.
First, many species of caterpillars are considered major pests in agricultural and forest settings. Entomologists study caterpillars in order to improve food production and the stability of forests. Armyworms, for example, are a group of caterpillars considered to be agriculture pests.
Apart from their sometimes deleterious effects on plant life, caterpillars often have a reputation as cute, fuzzy insects. In the caterpillar world, it's important to remember that not all caterpillars are fuzzy (or have hair), and those that have hair are not necessarily cute and cuddly.
Consider, for example, the stinging caterpillars, such as the puss caterpillar and the caterpillars in the Hemileuca genus. Human contact with the hairs on these caterpillars, and a few others, produces a stinging pain to the skin.
While many butterfly caterpillar species also can damage plant life, as a group, they are considered less benign than the caterpillars of moths. Part of the explanation is sheer numbers.
With around eleven thousand species of moths and less than six hundred species of butterflies found in the United States, the odds are that any particular caterpillar will be the larvae of a moth. Moth larvae tend to feed on plant life in agriculture and forest settings in higher numbers than their butterfly counterparts.
Caterpillar identification need not be necessarily difficult. A local caterpillar guide is often a sufficient resource for identifying the majority of moth and butterfly caterpillar species in any given area.
© 2008-2012 Patricia A. Michaels.