caterpillars in texas

Top 10 Popular Caterpillars in Texas

Caterpillars are amazing insects. Has it ever perplexed you that caterpillars eventually turn into moths or butterflies?

There are hundreds of different species of caterpillars in Texas.

Since it would be a daunting task to list all of them in one article. And so, I will be sharing the most common and interesting ones.

Are you ready?

Let’s dive into it.

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1. Cabbageworm

This caterpillar is also known as Pieris rapae.

You can identify it using the following unique characteristics:

  • They are small and relatively thin and appear velvety
  • They are light green with small yellow dots along the sides
  • Its preferred host plants are Brassicas, including kale, cabbage, broccoli, and chard.

In Texas, this species is mostly known as the Imported Cabbageworm since it is not native to North America. It was imported through shipments of cabbage and other brassica plants and soon transformed into an invasive species.

Moreover, it is considered an agricultural pest and can severely damage its host plants.

Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli are susceptible to damage by this caterpillar.

For a home gardener, preventing a large infestation is the most effective way to handle this caterpillar.

You can practice regular weeding, incorporate plant covers, and varied plantings to prevent this hungry pest.

The cabbageworm are voracious eaters – which make them terrible pests. They can quickly skeletonize entire plants, consuming everything but the toughest mid veins and stems. Also, they can easily bore through heads of cabbages and make huge dents in broccoli without any problem.

It matures into Cabbage White Butterflies, one of the most abundant butterflies in Texas.

If you spot a white butterfly in the spring, it is most likely a Cabbage White.

2. Monarch Caterpillar

Also known as Danaus plexippus, you can easily identify it using the following features;

  • Plump with white, black, and yellow bands
  • Has pronounced legs and prolegs
  • Has spindly black tentacles at the end of its body
  • Its preferred host plant is Milkweed.

Its distinctive tentacles and stripes give it a cartoonish appearance. It uses the highly colouring to send a message to predators to keep off.

Monarch caterpillars are toxic to many animals and, at the very least, taste bad!

They draw their poison from their diet, which is made up of Milkweed.

Toxins from the host plant stay in the caterpillar, producing a bitter taste and poisonous effect.

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3. Viceroy Caterpillar

Also known as Limenitis archippus, this caterpillar can be identified using the following features;

  • They are green or mottled brown and white to resemble bird droppings
  • They have two dark-coloured horns on their head and small spines on the body
  • Their chrysalis resembles bird droppings hanging from a tree branch
  • Their preferred host plants are poplar, willow, and cottonwood trees

This caterpillar is one of the ugliest caterpillars in Texas. And this is by design – their lumpy, mottled look makes them appear like bird droppings, warding off predators.

Interestingly, this is not their only protection mechanism against predators.

They feed on plants rich in salicylic acid, which they store in their bodies. When predators attempt to feed on them, they meet a strong, bitter flavour and an upset stomach.

Viceroy Caterpillar primarily lives in open fields and forests.

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4. Woolly Bear

Also known as Pyrrharctia isabella, this caterpillar can be identified using the following characteristics;

  • It is black with a wide rusty-red band in the middle
  • It is covered in dense, coarse hairs
  • It matures and transforms into Isabella Tiger Moths
  • They live on and eat almost any plant

The most interesting thing about this caterpillar is that they do not hibernate. Instead of pupating or burrowing to escape the cold, they allow themselves to freeze solid.

The unique chemical in their blood causes them to thaw out and continue in the spring as though nothing happened.

You can find this caterpillar and its adult form, Isabella Tiger Moths, in incredibly varied climates, even the Arctic. This is because they can eat almost anything, including tree leaves, herbs, and grasses. 

5. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Also known as Euptoieta claudia, the following unique features identify this caterpillar;

  • It has white, red, and black stripes that run the length of its body
  • It has black branched spines that stick out from each body segment in even rows

It uses any plant in the alder or violet family as its host plant. These include yellow alder, common blue violets, and pansies

This caterpillar shares the same name as their adult-form butterflies. They feed on ornamental plants such as pansies, violets, and passionflowers.

You can find these caterpillars in Texas in open lots, meadows, and fields.

Something else you need to know, these caterpillars are the most beautiful of all caterpillars in Texas.

6. Large Maple Spanworm

Also known as Prochoerodes lineola, this caterpillar can be identified using the following features;

  • They are grey-brown with small black spots scattered across their bodies. 
  • They are thin and stick-like, with a knob on each end

They feed on many trees and plants: maple, birch, apple, poplar, oak, willow, and walnut trees; soybean, geranium, blueberry, and currant plants; and grass.

This species has one of the best camouflages among caterpillars in Texas. It looks exactly like a twig on a tree, even on close viewing. This makes it difficult for predators to spot it.

7. Hornworms

This caterpillar has two common species that attack tobacco (Manduca sexta)/Tobacco Hornworm and tomato (Mandica quinquemaculata)/Tomato Hornworm.

You can identify them using the following features;

  • The two species have a nearly identical coloring: bright green with tiny white lines and black dots
  • They have a thin, filament-like ‘horn’ on the rear end
  • They grow up to 3.5 inches in length before metamorphosis

Tomato and Tobacco Hornworms are so similar that they are often mistaken for one another. The easiest way to differentiate them is by the colour of their horns.

Tobacco Hornworms have a red horn, while Tomato Hornworms have a black or green horn.

Although the adult moths they develop into are not as similar, they do have the same colouring.

Hornworms are considered among the most destructive caterpillars in Texas.

They are known to feed on tomatoes, tobacco, and other similar plants and regularly cause problems for growers and farmers who do not use pesticides.

Nonetheless, killing or relocating the caterpillars can be sufficient for you as a home gardener to deter any more from eating your plant.

8. Curve-Lined Owlet Moth Caterpillar

Also known as Phyprosopus callitrichoides, this caterpillar can be identified using the following features;

  • It is in shades of cream and brown and occasionally close to black
  • It has a distinctive spiky, contorted, and asymmetrical body, like a dry leaf
  • Its preferred host plant is the greenbriers

Chances are high you have spotted this caterpillar in Texas.

However, you may not have noticed it since it is good at camouflaging. Its body appears like a dry, curled leaf clinging to a branch.

Additionally, Curve-Lined Owlet Moths have a texture and colouring that resembles a dry leaf. Therefore, although the insect goes through a complete metamorphosis, it retains some of the survival tactics in adulthood.

9. Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar

Also known as Euchaetes eagle, this caterpillar can be identified using the following features;

  • They have tufts of white and black hairs covering their body, with one line of black-centered orange tufts along the back
  • Its body is relatively thin and up to 1.5 inches long
  • It prefers Milkweed as its host plant

Apart from looking very different, Milkweed Tussock Caterpillars in Texas share several features with Monarch caterpillars.

10. White-Marked Tussock Caterpillar

Also known as Orgyia luecostigma, this caterpillar can be identified using the following features;

  • They have yellow or black stripes that run the length of the body with a large red spot on the head
  • They have many tufts of hair-like spines
  • They can use any coniferous or deciduous tree as a host

Viral infections mainly control the population of these caterpillars. Alphabaculovirus is such as, for example. This class of viruses infects and kills many caterpillars, butterflies, and moths. Infections spread fast since they live closely together on the same host plant. The virus is associated with rapid sickness and death among infected caterpillars.

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