Types of Black and Brown Caterpillars (Pictures and Identification)

Black and Brown Caterpillars identification

Black and brown caterpillars are the worm-like larvae of moths and butterflies. The most common black and brown caterpillar is the furry banded woolly bear. This hairy crawling insect is covered in black hairy tufts with a bronze-brown band in the middle. Other types of brown and black caterpillars can have smooth bodies, spiny clumps, mottled patterns, or stinging setae (hairs). 

This article is an identifying guide to recognizing common types of black and brown caterpillars. Descriptions and pictures of these worm-like creatures will help to identify individual species.

How to Identify Black and Brown Caterpillars 

Black and brown caterpillar identification is by the insect’s shape and particular markings. For example, some caterpillars are smooth, whereas others have bumps and eyespots. Also, look for hairs, spiny tufts, pencil hairs, lashes, or fleshy horns. Identifying the caterpillar’s host plant can also help to know the species. 

Identifying black and brown caterpillars can be challenging. Caterpillars start life as tiny eggs before the larvae hatch and feed voraciously on plant leaves. Then, as the slug-like insects grow, they go through growth stages (instars). During this time, the shape, color, and appearance of the larvae can change.

For example, the black and brown elephant hawk moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor) starts as a slender, bright green caterpillar with a black horn. It then becomes mottled black and brown with conspicuous eye-like patterns as it grows. 

Also, the common black and brown woolly bear larva has sparse tufts of short spikes when immature before becoming a hairy caterpillar. 

Types of Black and Brown Caterpillars (With Pictures)

Let’s look in detail at the identifying features of common black and brown caterpillars. 

Woolly Bear Caterpillar (Pyrrharctia Isabella)

Woolly Bear Caterpillar (Pyrrharctia Isabella)

Isabella tiger moth caterpillar is a furry caterpillar with black and rusty brown hairs

The banded woolly bear has tufts of fuzzy-looking bristles that are black at either ends and reddish-brown or bronze in the middle. The harmless furry caterpillar is covered in stiff hairs. Although the black and brown caterpillar has a jagged appearance, it’s not a stinging caterpillar, and you can safely handle it.

Also called the black-ended bear, the woolly bear is more of a black caterpillar when it’s immature. As it grows, it becomes woollier and more reddish as it nears the pupation stage. However, the larva’s distinctive black-brown-black appearance makes it easily recognizable. 

Woolly bears grow around 2.3” (60 mm) long. After pupation, the fuzzy caterpillar turns into an attractive orange moth with black spots along its abdomen. 

Black and brown woolly bears look cute and cuddly. Although it’s covered in fuzzy spiky hair tufts, it doesn’t have stinging spines, and it’s not a toxic caterpillar. So, in general, woolly bear caterpillars are safe to pick up without getting stung. 

A characteristic trait of the woolly bear is its habit of rolling into a furry ball when it feels threatened. This action has earned the fuzzy bear caterpillar the nickname hedgehog caterpillar. 

You will usually find the black and brown woolly bear feeding on milkweed, dandelion, nettles, and other low-growing weedy plants. In addition, the furry caterpillar is common on violets, asters, elm trees, and birch trees

It’s a common myth that the size of the brown patch on a woolly bear helps predict the weather. It is said that the wider the rusty brown band, the milder the following winter will be. If the fuzzy bear looks black, then the winter is said to be harsh. However, the coloring of woolly bears depends on the previous winter, not the upcoming one. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The woolly bear is easy to spot in a fall landscape due to its furry appearance and brown band between black ends.

Drinker Moth Caterpillar (Euthrix potatoria)

Drinker Moth Caterpillar (Euthrix potatoria)

The drinker moth caterpillar is a furry brown, black and white caterpillar

The drinker moth larva is a black and brown caterpillar with tufts of orangey hairs, two rows of yellow or orange dots on its back, and white markings along its sides. Depending on the climate, the caterpillar can look black and orange. The drinker moth caterpillars grow 2.4” (61 mm) long.

The hairy spotted and striped caterpillar tends to feed on grasses and reeds in marshy areas. After pupating, the larva turns into a furry yellow or rusty brown moth. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The drinker moth caterpillar is identified by its black body, brown fuzzy prolegs, and tufts of orangey setae. In addition, there are small dark brown tufts and yellow or orange speckles on its back.

Garden Tiger Moth Caterpillar (Arctia caja)

Garden Tiger Moth Caterpillar (Arctia caja)

The fuzzy garden tiger moth caterpillar has black, rusty brown and gray hair-like spines

The garden tiger moth larva is a brown and black caterpillar covered in long hairs and spines. These woolly bear caterpillars have a black furry body with a reddish-brown band along their sides. The fuzzy caterpillars develop toxin-filled spines that can cause skin irritation when handled. 

Garden tiger moth caterpillars are active in late summer. In warmer climates, like Florida, the caterpillars are still seen in September, and they feed on a wide variety of plants. The woolly bear moth caterpillar turns into beautiful brown and fuzzy orange moths with stunning wing patterns. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The garden tiger moth caterpillar is identified by its black, hairy body with orange-brown coloring along its sides and long whitish-gray pencil hairs.

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor)

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor)

The large elephant hawk moth caterpillar has brown and black patterns on its body

The elephant hawk moth larva is a large, plump brown and black horned caterpillar with eye-like markings on its head. Before pupation, the mature caterpillar is a brown-dark gray color with black dots along its body. However, the immature slender larvae are bright green or yellowish-white.

The impressive brown, dark-gray and black horned caterpillar grows up to 3” (75 mm) long. After the pupal stage, the fat caterpillar is a stunning brown and pink furry moth with pale pink legs and antennae. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The elephant hawk moth caterpillar is characterized by its brown body with black markings and spots and eye-like markings on its head.

Scarce Dagger Moth Caterpillar (Acronicta auricoma)

Scarce Dagger Moth Caterpillar (Acronicta auricoma)

The scarce dagger moth caterpillar has pale dots on the back of its black body with orange-brown spikes

The scarce dagger moth larva is a black hairy caterpillar covered in tufts of orangey-brown hairs emerging from yellowish bumps. The slender black and brown spiny creatures have an orange head with a dense covering of fine setae. In some instars, the caterpillar looks like a spiky black caterpillar with yellow dots.

Scarce dagger moth caterpillars are typically active from May until August. Then, after pupating, the black and orangey-brown-haired larva turns into a white and gray moth. 

The spiny, fuzzy caterpillar is not a stinging variety. However, its hairs are irritating and can leave your skin itchy after handling it. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The scarce dagger moth caterpillar is identified by its slender worm-like black body covered in tufts of pale brown or orange spines.

Fox Moth Caterpillar (Macrothylacia rubi)

Fox Moth Caterpillar (Macrothylacia rubi)

The furry fox moth caterpillar has rusty brown marking along its black body

The fox moth larva is a long, slender caterpillar, primarily black with rusty brown bands. The hairy caterpillar is covered in fine black setae with tufts of grayish white hairs along its sides. The furry creature also has a rounded head, eight prolegs, and six front legs. 

The fox moth caterpillar is black and bright yellow in its initial instars. As it grows, the worm-like larva becomes darker and eventually dark brown and black with tawny hairs. The fox moth caterpillar eventually grows to 3.1” (80 mm) long.

Black and brown caterpillar identification

Identifying features of the fox moth caterpillar are its furry black and brown body covered in black or grayish tufts of fine hairs.

Pink-Spotted Hawkmoth Caterpillar (Agrius cingulata)

pink-spotted hawkmoth (Agrius cingulate)

The large pink-spotted hawkmoth caterpillar has dark brown almost black body with orange lines and creamy patterns and pointed tail

The pink-spotted hawkmoth larva is an impressive dark brown caterpillar that looks almost black. The horned caterpillar has stunning markings with orange stripes along its back and triangular patterns with an eyespot on each segment. This large brown or black caterpillar measures 3.14” (80 mm) long.

The large, pink-spotted hawkmoth caterpillar is a significant pest in Texas where it feeds on sweet potato plants and can destroy entire crops.

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The pink-spotted hawkmoth caterpillar’s body is smooth and dark brown, with distinctive triangular creamy markings, orange stripes on its back, and a pointed tail horn.

Imperial Moth Caterpillar (Eacles imperialis)

Imperial Moth Caterpillar (Eacles imperialis)

The large imperial moth caterpillar has color variations with dark brown and black spiny body and pale yellow spots along its sides

The imperial moth larva is a large dark brown and black caterpillar with spiny red horns, orange and yellow dots, and pale wispy spines. This dark hairy caterpillar can grow up to 5.5” (100 mm). The caterpillar has a fearsome appearance with its three red horns at its head and red tail horn. 

The imperial moth caterpillar goes through various growth stages. The larva starts small, about 0.4” (10 mm) long, and is orange and black with long spines. As the caterpillar develops, it becomes longer and its spines shorter. Mature imperial moth caterpillars can be dark brown, green, or burgundy. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The dark brown and black imperial moth caterpillar has a distinctive row of yellow-orange oval circles, fine hairs, and several fleshy red spines. 

Salt Marsh Moth Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea)

Salt Marsh Moth Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea)

The hairy salt marsh caterpillar can vary in color from tan to dark brown, almost black

The salt marsh moth larva is a rusty brown and black caterpillar covered in tufts of dark orange or black spines. The hairy caterpillar has a tube-like body that measures 2” (50 mm) long. Other identifying features of the shaggy larva include warty orange growths and white dots.

Like many hairy caterpillars, the salt marsh moth caterpillar has several color variations. The fuzzy caterpillar’s body ranges in color from dark brownish black to rusty orange or pale yellow. 

You can often find this furry caterpillar feeding on cabbage, dandelions, clover, legumes, cotton plants, as well as walnut and apple trees.

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The salt marsh caterpillar is identified by its slender, hairy body with a row of orange spots covered in tufts of urticating spines. 

Common Buckeye Caterpillar (Junonia coenia)

Common Buckeye Caterpillar (Junonia coenia)

The black and brown common buckeye caterpillar has some color variations

The common buckeye butterfly larva is a spiky black caterpillar with brown stripes along its back. The black and brown insect has identifiable features like a reddish-orange head with black markings, orangey-brown spots, and a brown underside. The slender cylinder-shaped spiny black insects grow 1.5” (40 mm) long.

Common buckeye caterpillars have several variations in appearance. Some are black worm-like creatures covered in branched spines and tiny white dots. Others are black caterpillars with white stripes. 

The common buckeye caterpillar is easily confused with the painted lady butterfly caterpillar and the Glanville fritillary butterfly larva.

Buckeye caterpillars adapt well to hot, dry climates and are common bugs in Arizona and other desert states.

Black and brown caterpillar identification

Common buckeye caterpillars are black with distinctive black branched spines, pale chocolatey-brown stripes, and orange-brown spots along their abdomen.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)

Eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)

The large eastern tent caterpillar has a dark brown-blackish body with a distinct white line on its back

The eastern tent caterpillar is a slender, shiny dark brown-black insect with a conspicuous brown and white band along its back. Other characteristics of the caterpillar are its bulbous black head, yellowish setae, and bluish-black spots along its abdomen. The eastern tent caterpillar grows 2” (50 mm) long.

Tent caterpillars are easy to identify on trees as they have the habit of living in large, webbed tent-like structures. The striped, hairy brownish-black larvae feed en masse and are often spotted on deciduous trees in early and mid-spring. 

Tent caterpillars can be poisonous creatures to some animals, especially horses. Pregnant horses that eat tent caterpillars usually abort the fetus spontaneously.  

Black and brown caterpillar identification

Eastern tent caterpillars are slender brownish-black tube-like creatures with tufts of yellowish setae and recognizable white stripes running from head to tail. 

Ruby Tiger Caterpillar (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)

Ruby Tiger Caterpillar (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)

The small hairy brown and black ruby tiger caterpillar can have different color variations with dark or pale brown

The ruby tiger moth larva is a dark brown and black hairy caterpillar covered in foxy red hairs. Before pupation, the tiny hairy caterpillar only grows about 0.78” (20 mm). 

This spine-covered larva has several color combinations. Some are black and hairy with pale brown stripes. However, they can also be primarily rusty brown with black patches. 

The hairy brown and black caterpillar turns into the eye-catching ruby moth with bright orange and reddish-brown coloring.

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The ruby moth caterpillar is identified as a small dark brown and black hairy caterpillar. 

Black Witch Moth Caterpillar (Ascalapha odorata)

Black Witch Moth Caterpillar (Ascalapha odorata)

The plump black witch moth caterpillar has mottled brown and black patterns on its body

The black witch moth larva is a giant black and brown caterpillar with mottled patterns, black stripes and brown spots. The engorged brownish-black crawling insect feeds on legumes and is prevalent in the southern United States. This cigar-like caterpillar grows up to 2.75” (70 mm) long.

The large black and brown caterpillar is common in Florida throughout the year and in Texas after the start of the rainy season. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The black witch moth caterpillar is identified by its brown and black cylindrical body with three irregularly shaped light-colored blotches and two parallel stripes on its back. 

Brown Tail Moth Caterpillar (Euproctis chrysorrhoea)

Brown Tail Moth Caterpillar (Euproctis chrysorrhoea)

The brown-tail moth caterpillar has white marking and stinging hairs on its black or dark brown body

The brown tail moth larva is an eye-catching dark brown to black hairy caterpillar with white markings along its sides and two distinctive orange dots at its tail end. The blackish-brown caterpillar has bright orange patterns at its head and tufts of spines on the sides of each segment.

When mature, the white-spotted blackish brown tail moth caterpillar measures 1” (25 mm) long. The leaf-eating larvae feed on oak, maple, pear, and apple trees. This moth caterpillar is considered invasive and isn’t native to North America. 

Black and brown caterpillar identification

The brown tail moth caterpillar is a hairy brownish-black caterpillar with tufts of yellowish setae along its sides, white and orange dots, and two conspicuous red spots on its rear segments. 

Related articles:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *