Types of Green Caterpillars with Identification Guide and Pictures

Types of Green Caterpillars with Identification Guide and Pictures

Green caterpillars are some of the most commonly recognizable crawling insects in the wild. All types of caterpillars, including green ones, gorge on a diet of plant and tree leaves. Some of the largest and fattest insects in the Lepidoptera order are green caterpillars. Green caterpillars are identified by their size, specific markings, spines or spikes, and plant food they feed on.

Caterpillars are larvae before they turn into moths or butterflies. Most species of green caterpillars have smooth bodies and are completely harmless. Although green caterpillars aren’t poisonous, some have spikes or spines that can give you a nasty sting. In fact, one green caterpillar species even spits acid! So, it is always better to identify the caterpillar species before picking one up.

When trying to identify types of caterpillars, it’s good to remember that they go through different stages of growth. Sometimes, baby larvae of green caterpillars can look different from mature caterpillars. The descriptions of different caterpillars in this list are of mature ones before they enter pupation.

In this article, you will find out about the different identifying features of various green caterpillar species.

Types of Green Caterpillars With Names and Pictures

Let’s look in more detail at the different green caterpillars you may find crawling on plants in your garden or in the wild.

Tomato Hornworm Caterpillar

Tomato Hornworm Caterpillar

The Tomato Hornworm caterpillar is a type of bright green caterpillar with a horn and white markings

Tomato Hornworm caterpillars (Manduca quinquemaculata) are a common type of green caterpillar that can be a real garden pest. This crawling bright green worm gets its name because it feeds on tomato plants.

You can identify this species due to V-shaped white markings on their green bodies. Also, these ‘hornworms’ have a large head in comparison to the rest of their body. At their rear end, these green caterpillars have a protruding ‘tail’ that looks like a spike (or horn). This is completely harmless as the Tomato Hornworm isn’t a stinging type of insect.

These ravenous feeders are difficult to spot as they are well camouflaged among green foliage. You may find them lurking under leaves or crawling along tomato vines. Although they eat tomato leaves, they also munch on leaves of other plants in the nightshade family.

Tomato Hornworms are sometimes confused with a related species, the Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta). Both of these large fat green caterpillars can eat their way through a lot of crops.

Identifying features

A green caterpillar with a horn at one end and distinctive white markings and black or dark dots along its side.

Found mostly in the Northern states of the US and southern Canada.

Winter Moth Caterpillar (Inchworm)

Winter Moth Caterpillar

As seen in the picture, the small Winter Moth caterpillar has pale white stripes along its green body

The Winter Moth caterpillar (Operophtera brumata) is a type of inchworm in the family Geometridae and genus Operophtera. This species of caterpillar gets its name from the fact that they only grow to about an inch long (2.5 cm).

Although many species of inchworm are beneficial insects, the Winter Moth variety can be invasive. You can spot a Winter Moth inchworm if it only has 2 pairs of legs on its rear end. Less destructive inchworms have more legs at their rear.

You can also identify these small caterpillar worms by the white stripes that run the length of its inch-long body.

These larvae feed on tree leaves such as oak, maple, beech, willow, as well as raspberry and blueberry shrubs.

Identifying features

This tiny slender green inchworm is fairly small compared to other caterpillars.

Genista Broom Moth Caterpillar

Genista Broom Caterpillar

The Genista Broom Moth Caterpillar has a black and white markings on its green-brown body

A green caterpillar with black and white dots can be the Genista Broom caterpillar (Uresiphita reversalis).

You can often find this brownish-green caterpillar crawling on sweet peas, honeysuckles, and various deciduous plants. One way to identify this caterpillar is by its black oval head with white dots. Each segment of its body also has a number of white, black, and yellowish markings.

Although not classed as a furry type of caterpillar, there are wispy white spines sticking out from its body.

Identifying features

A small type of green caterpillar with a slightly hairy body and distinctive markings help identify it.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

black swallowtail

A mature black swallowtail caterpillar has green body with black stripes and yellow dots

Mature Black Swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes) have a lime-green body and striking black stripes. In their immature stage, these larvae look black and almost resemble bird droppings.

The best way to identify these green caterpillars is by their colored stripes. Each segment of their body has a black stripe with yellow dots on it. The black and yellow stripes are closer together nearer the head end of the caterpillar.

As a defense mechanism, the caterpillar releases a foul-smelling odor and sticks out an orange ‘tongue’ from its head. This is not a true tongue, but osmeterium that resembles a forked snake’s tongue.

After emerging from the pupa, the fat green caterpillar will have turned into a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.

Identifying features

If you come across this green and black caterpillar, gently squeeze its front end to see orange horns that pop out. However, be careful as this caterpillar also gives off a horrible smell.

Emperor Moth Caterpillar

Emperor Moth Caterpillar

The Emperor caterpillar has yellow and black dots on its large green body

One of the larger green caterpillar species is the Emperor moth caterpillar (Saturnia pavonia). This caterpillar is from the Saturniidae family of insects.

As immature larvae, this species is black and orange. In its later stages, it turns green. You can identify this caterpillar by its black rings around the segments that feature orange and yellow spots. Looking up closely, you will notice tufts of tiny black hairs.

This is not a poisonous or stinging type of caterpillar. But, the spines are stiff and sharp and may cause some skin irritation.

Identifying features

A large plump green caterpillar with rows of yellow dots wrapping around each segment.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

Tiger Swallowtail

The green Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar has eye-like markings on its head

The green Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio glaucus) from the Papiliionidae family is unusual due to its distinctive markings. The larvae develop a solid green body color as it grows and matures. Just before pupation stage, the Tiger Swallowtail becomes dark brown.

One of the most distinctive features to identify this caterpillar are the eye-like markings on its head. These eyespots are yellow or pale green dots with black centers resembling eyes. You can also tell this caterpillar apart by its white or yellowish band just behind the thorax (head). The ‘eyes’ act as a defensive mechanism to frighten off predators.

Like all swallowtail caterpillars, the Tiger caterpillar emits a foul stench when under threat. It may also stick out it osmeteria from behind its head to resemble an angry snake.

Identifying features

You may be forgiven by thinking that the Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar is staring at you due to its unusual eye-like markings.

White-Lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

White-Lined Sphinx

The White-lined Sphinx caterpillar has yellow and black markings on its bright green body with a horn on its back

Another type of ‘hornworm’ is the White-lined Sphinx caterpillar (Hyles lineata) which has a lime-green body. You will also notice black and yellow markings down its side.

This caterpillar species has a variety of colors. Some of the large fat caterpillars are black with stripes and some are green with orange or yellow spots. All of these species have a horn at their tail. Although this makes the caterpillar look menacing, the horn doesn’t sting.

To identify the green White-lined Sphinx species, look for rows of black spots with yellow centers on the side of each segment. Near the prolegs, you will notice a row of black and yellow dots with white specks.

Identifying features

Look for the orange and black horn protruding from the back of this harmless green caterpillar.

Copper Underwing Moth Caterpillar

Copper Underwing

The Copper Underwing caterpillar has thin yellow line along the sides of its green body

The name of the Copper Underwing caterpillar (Amphipyra pyramidoides) comes from the type of moth that the caterpillar turns into. In its larval stage, the Copper Underwing moth is a green grub.

This light green caterpillar can be mistaken for a hornworm. However, there is hump at the rear without any horn. In its early stages, the larvae have a neon green, almost translucent, body. As the caterpillar feeds and grows, the body becomes darker, and a thin yellow line along its sides develops.

The Copper Underwing caterpillar munches its way through a lot of raspberry, oak, maple, and apple tree leaves.

Identifying features

Similar to other species of caterpillars, this variety often rests with the front section of its body in an upright position.

Luna Moth Caterpillar

Copper Underwing

The large Luna caterpillar has green ridged body with red dots

The Luna moth caterpillar (Actias luna) is a large species of caterpillar that has a spiky pale green body. Rather than a smooth body like many green varieties, the Luna caterpillar segments are ridges.

Luna caterpillars from the Saturniidae family of insects is in the group of large silk moths. The lightly-colored green ridged body features red or orange spots, some of which sprout small fine black spines. This is more of a spiky type of caterpillar rather than a hairy one.

Although this caterpillar doesn’t sting, the sharp spikes could prick your skin and cause irritation.

Just before spinning a cocoon, the Luna moth caterpillar becomes a reddish-brown color.

Identifying features

One of the more unusual green caterpillars that turn into elegant beautiful green moths.

A large green caterpillar that can grow up to 3.5” (9 cm) in length.

Cabbage White Butterfly Caterpillar

Cabbage White Butterfly Caterpillar

The green Cabbage White Butterfly Caterpillar is commonly found on cruciferous vegetables

One of the most common caterpillar species is the Cabbage White Butterfly Caterpillar (Pieris rapae). Their light green color means that these grubs are difficult to spot on cabbage, kale, or broccoli leaves.

One of the features of these caterpillars is their enormous appetite. The long green larvae continually feed to increase their size. The invasive nature of these caterpillars means they can be a pest for any gardener.

The way to identify these green caterpillars is by their slender long body. You may notice that the caterpillars are green and yellow color due to lightly colored markings. The crawling grub has a slight fuzziness to its appearance.

Some caterpillars may have a bluish-green body with tiny black dots on the segments.

Identifying features

Immature larvae have black heads that gradually turn yellow and then green during each growth stage.

Hickory Horned Devil Moth Caterpillar

Hickory Horned Caterpillar

The large Hickory Horned Devil has a scary look with blue-green body and orange and black spikes

Certainly one of the scariest caterpillars you will find, the Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar (Citheronia regalis) looks very menacing.

The huge bluish-green caterpillar is appropriately called a horned caterpillar. One end of the fat segmented body has long spiky red horns with black tips. Also, each segment of the turquoise-green body has small black spikes. Either end of the caterpillar has red tips.

Despite its menacing look, this large species is one of the most placid in the Saturniidae family. The evil-looking caterpillar is surprisingly harmless and it doesn’t sting or bite.

Identifying features

One of the largest green caterpillars, the Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar can grow up to 6” (15 cm) long. Pictures of this caterpillar show that it is as large as the palm of your hand.

Rustic Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Rustic Sphinx

The Rustic Sphinx caterpillar has a large horn and white strips on its green body

Generally found in states such as Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Mississippi, the Rustic Sphinx caterpillar (Manduca rustica) is a green horned species.

In some ways, this caterpillar looks similar to the Tobacco Hornworm. It has a lime green body and distinctive diagonal white and maroon stripes on its sides. The rear has a large spiky horn which doesn’t sting.

Some species of this large fat caterpillar have a reddish coloring on the top. Diagonal white strips divide this color from the green color on the lower segments. Their horny tails can be yellow with red freckling.

The name of these ‘sphinx’ caterpillar comes from the way they like to raise the front of their body up like the Sphinx in Egypt.

Identifying features

A large bulky looking green species of caterpillar with diagonal white stripes and large horn.

European Puss Moth Caterpillar

European Puss

The European Puss caterpillar can be easily identified by its unique look

Another fat lime-green caterpillar is the European Puss caterpillar (Cerura vinula). This weird and unusual looking caterpillar has a triangular head at one end and long spiked tails at the other.

This is one of the most fascinating types of green caterpillars to look at. When under threat, the larvae extend red menacing lashes to ward off other insects. Also, the head end of the grub has patterning that resembles a scary face. This looks like a mouth wide open bearing gnashing teeth.

This is one of the more dangerous caterpillars on this list. If you happen to identify one, you should stay clear of it. When annoyed, the caterpillar can spit poisonous acid. You can tell when the caterpillar is agitated because it will raise up its head and whip its long tails from side to side.

This unique green ‘pus’ grub should not be confused with the American Puss caterpillar that is a hairy variety.

Identifying features

A big plump green caterpillar that can grow up to 3” (8 cm) and act aggressively.

Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

Hyalophora cecropia

The Cecropia moth caterpillar is a type of large green caterpillar with yellow and blue nodules

The Cecropia caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia) is one of the largest and unique-looking green caterpillars you will come across. The larvae start off as a yellowish-green color before becoming bluish-green in later stages.

The large segments on this caterpillar give the larvae a ridged appearance. One of the unique identifying features of this caterpillar are the yellow, blue, or orange tubercles that grow on the body. Each of these colorful bumps sprouts small black spikes. There are even blue tubercles on the prolegs on its middle section.

Although this may be one of the most bizarre-looking caterpillars you will see, they turn into some of the most beautiful moths. In fact, the Cecropia moth that comes from this caterpillar is one of the largest moths in North America.

Identifying features

One of the largest species of green caterpillar, the Cecropia grows up to a length of 4.5” (10 cm).

Angle Shades Moth Caterpillar

Angle Shades

The body of the Angle Shades Moth Caterpillar can be green or light brown

The Angel Shades caterpillars (Phlogophora meticulosa) in the Noctuidae family are small larvae in comparison to some huge species. These caterpillars can be dull green with whitish dorsal lines. Others are green or brown with red spots along their sides.

Cabbage Looper Caterpillars

Cabbage Looper Caterpillars

The green cabbage looper caterpillar prefers to eat cruciferous vegetables

Cabbage looper caterpillar (Trichoplusia ni) get their name from the way they crawl, making large arching actions. These cabbage worms are slightly hairy due to fine bristles that grow on their bodies. As they mature, they take on a green color and grow up to 1.5” (4 cm). Also, their feeding habits increase until they are eating 3 times their body weight daily.

Imperial Moth Caterpillar

Imperial moth caterpillar

The large Imperial moth caterpillar can greatly vary in color. Most mature ones are brown, maroon or green

There are a number of subspecies in the Imperial moth caterpillar species (Eacles imperialis). Imperial moth caterpillars aren’t a poisonous type of grub but they can do a lot of damage to crops. Some species of these large caterpillars are green and yellow and others are brown and burgundy. The fat green ones can grow to a huge side of 5.5” (10 cm).

Frequently Asked Questions about Green Caterpillars

Are green caterpillars worms?

Although some green caterpillars are referred to as worms, they are in a different class. Caterpillars such as inchworms and cabbage worms belong to the class Insecta. Worms are a species of invertebrate in the class Clitellata.

Why are caterpillars green?

Many caterpillars are green because it is a great camouflage mechanism in the wild. Some green caterpillar species have special markings to frighten off prey or make them look like venomous creatures.

Are green caterpillars poisonous?

Generally, green caterpillars are not poisonous. Some species ingest toxic substances from plants to give them a bitter taste to any animal that may want to eat them. Most green caterpillars don’t sting or bite.

What do green caterpillars eat?

Like most moth or butterfly larvae, green caterpillars need to gorge on plant food to increase their weight. This gives them enough energy to metamorphize into beautiful flying insects. Caterpillars tend to munch their way through leaves on the host plant. Only if there is a large infestation of caterpillars, will they do extensive damage.

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