Yellow Caterpillars with Identification Guide and Pictures

Yellow Caterpillars with Identification Guide and Pictures

Yellow caterpillars are larvae that turn to stunning moths or butterflies. Some types of yellow caterpillars are fuzzy-looking and others have smooth segmented bodies typical of many species of caterpillars. Sometimes, yellow fuzzy caterpillars can be poisonous. Although they are not toxic enough to kill you, touching them can cause skin irritation.

All types of yellow caterpillars, as with all caterpillar species, belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera. They generally look like fat slugs or worms, although some caterpillars have exotic spiky bodies. Caterpillars have a huge appetite and they eat through a lot of vegetation before they enter the pupal stage. After that, the insects reach their final stage and emerge as moths or butterflies.

When looking at pictures to identify caterpillars, it is good to remember that caterpillars go through 4 or 5 growth stages. So, an immature caterpillar may look completely different from one before it becomes a pupa.

Because caterpillars can’t defend themselves, they have various defense mechanisms to protect themselves from predators. Bright yellow and black caterpillars can appear unappetizing to other animals. Spiny bristles on some yellow caterpillars have venom that can cause irritation. Green caterpillars use camouflage to hide from birds and other animals.

In this article, you will learn about the most common types of yellow caterpillars. Along with pictures of caterpillars, descriptions and their scientific name will help identify species of yellow caterpillars.

Yellow Caterpillar Identification

It is easy to identify species of yellow caterpillars due to their yellowish coloring. Some fuzzy caterpillars are yellow due to the color of their spiny hairs (called setae). Other yellow caterpillars have yellow and black markings making them look like types of striped caterpillars.

Interestingly, from all the different species of caterpillars, most yellow caterpillars have spikes or hairs making them look furry. You may also notice that some fuzzy yellow caterpillars have large horns at either end of their bodies. It’s good to remember, that most hairy yellow caterpillars can sting because of their urticating hairs.

Type of Yellow Caterpillars with Pictures

Let’s look in more detail at the many different types of caterpillars that have yellow bodies or yellow hairs.

American Dagger Caterpillar (Acronicta americana)

American dagger caterpillar

The American dagger caterpillar can be identified by its distinct yellow-whitish hairy look

Although the American dagger caterpillar looks cute and fuzzy, its body is covered with yellow urticating hairs. This caterpillar is identified by tufts of bristly yellow hairs, a shiny oval black head, and long black pencil hairs sticking up from its body. As the larvae mature, their fuzzy yellow color turns to pale yellow or white.

These yellow caterpillars with black spikes grow to about 2” (5 cm) long.

The American dagger moth caterpillar doesn’t sting like a wasp. The irritating hairs break off in the skin where they can cause hives, welts, or dermatitis. So, to avoid getting “stung,” you shouldn’t pick up these fuzzy yellow caterpillars.

These caterpillars appear between July and October and live in deciduous forests and woodlands. They love to gorge on the leaves of maples, birch, hickory, oaks, and elms.

When these spiky yellow caterpillars become adults, they are a brown species of moth. These flying insects have a wingspan of up to 2.6” (6.5 cm) and have white, tan, and dark brown markings on their wings.

Yellow caterpillar identification

These North American caterpillars are easy to identify due to their fuzzy yellow appearance, black spikes, and glossy round head.

Yellow Woolly Bear (Spilosoma virginica)

yellow wooly bear

The yellow woolly bear is a common type of furry caterpillar

Yellow wooly bear caterpillars are another type of fluffy-looking caterpillar that also has long thin spiky hairs. Although this species has the common name of yellow woolly bear, the fuzzy colors can range from white to yellow to reddish-brown. Yellow woollies are the most common type of fuzzy yellow caterpillar in North America.

You can identify these caterpillars by their short bristles together with extra-long hairs. The most striking example of these caterpillars is the kind that is black and yellow with long pencil hairs. These crawling furry caterpillars can grow up to 2” (5 cm) and are generally found on low-growing plants.

Woolly bear caterpillars are not poisonous insects, but their setae are irritating and can cause dermatitis. You may find them munching their way through carrot, sweet potato, and eggplant leaves. So, if you are trying to get rid of these caterpillars from your garden, make sure and wear protective gloves.

After the yellow furry larvae go through metamorphosis, they turn into the Virginia tiger moth. This is a beautiful species of white moth with a wingspan of between 1.1” and 2” (3 – 5 cm).

Yellow caterpillar identification

You can identify yellow woolly bear caterpillars by their hairy appearance and longer pencil hairs.

Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Halysidota harrisii)

Sycamore Tussock caterpillar

The pale yellow furry sycamore tussock caterpillar has an unusual pair of spikes on each end

A member of the family of tiger moths, the sycamore tussock caterpillar is a pale-yellow fuzzy caterpillar with orange and white spiky hairs. As their name suggests, these yellow tussock caterpillars are found eating the foliage of sycamore trees. The small caterpillars only grow to about 1” (3 cm) in length.

To help with caterpillar identification, look for a pair of long orange pencil hairs at one end, and a pair of white pencil hairs at the other. You will also notice that its body is covered in light yellowish-white bristles.

As with most kinds of furry caterpillars, their urticating setae can cause skin inflammation when handled. Some medical reports show that exposure to sycamore tussock caterpillars can result in allergic reactions. (1)

After pupation, the sycamore tussock caterpillar emerges as a yellow moth with bluish wings. The sycamore moth has a plump short furry body and a wingspan of 2” (5 cm).

One way to control populations of these hungry caterpillars is to encourage birds to your garden who feed on the moths and larvae.

Yellow caterpillar identification

The identification of this yellow fluffy caterpillar is by the pair of orange spikes at its head end. Also, look for small black dots running the length of its sides as well as long pale-yellow bristles at its feet.

Sycamore Moth (Acronicta aceris)

sycamore moth caterpillar

The fuzzy sycamore moth caterpillar has orange-yellow hairs and white dots along its body

The sycamore moth caterpillar is a hairy caterpillar that has orange and yellow bristles covering its short body. These insects are mainly found in Europe and the Middle East. The orange-yellow hairs on sycamore caterpillars are arranged in tufts along the length of its body.

The bright coloring of this caterpillar species makes it easy to identify. In addition to the tufts of orange/yellow hairs, there are white dots running down the middle of its back. Sometimes, these can be joined together by a white line. These long-haired yellow or orange caterpillars have black heads.

If you look at the scientific names, you will see that the sycamore moth is different from the sycamore tussock moth. Sycamore moths are from the family Noctuidae and tussocks are from the moth family Erebidae.

These furry caterpillars turn into small sycamore moths that have gray wings measuring 1.5” (4 cm) across.

Yellow caterpillar identification

Their distinctive appearance of thickly covered long yellow or orange hairs make these caterpillars easy to spot. Commonly found on types of trees such as maples, mulberries, and horse-chestnuts.

Yellow Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa maculata)

yellow spotted tussock caterpillar

The yellow-spotted tussock caterpillar has a distinctive look with its yellow and black hairs

The yellow-spotted tussock caterpillar is another striking example of a yellow fuzzy caterpillar with black tufts of hair.

Looking at pictures of this spotted caterpillar, it is easy to see how it got its common name. Short tufts of yellow hairs cover its body and there are clumps of jet-black hairs running the length of its back. This gives the furry caterpillar a distinctive spotted appearance.

You will also see longer white pencil hairs sticking out at its feet and also at either end of its body. Other types of tussock moth caterpillars are black and yellow varieties. They have thick clumps of black irritating hairs at both ends and a thick wide yellow band around their middle. The long spiky white hairs from either end just add to its striking appearance.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin say that these yellow caterpillars are found feeding in deciduous woodlands. They gorge on poplar, oak, willow, alder and maple leaves. Their coloration and urticating hairs act as a defense against birds. (2)

After emerging from the chrysalis, yellow spotted caterpillars are a type of tiger moth with elongated wings. The moth has lightly colored brown wings with irregular darker patterns.

Yellow caterpillar identification

The contrast of striking bright yellow hairs and tufts of pitch-black hairs are identifying features of spotted tussock moth caterpillars.

Cloudless Sulfur (Phoebis sennae)

cloudless sulfur

The bright yellow cloudless sulfur caterpillar has darker bands between its segments

The cloudless sulfur caterpillar is a smooth-bodied yellow caterpillar with no hairs at all. As the larvae grow, they become a deep yellow color with some having a greenish appearance.

You will notice that these yellow caterpillars have green or dark bands in between some of the segments. If you look up closely, you will also see small black dots that are tiny spikes. Indentations running around its body give the appearance of stripes. Because of the lack of hairs, you can also clearly see the prolegs in the middle segments.

The green species of these caterpillars have a yellow line running the length of their bodies. Both the yellow caterpillars and the green caterpillars grow to about 1.8” (4.5 cm) in length.

Although their yellow color makes cloudless sulfur caterpillars stand out, they usually spend their days hiding and sleeping under leaves. They usually come out to feed at night when they gorge their way through leaves on clover and legume plant leaves.

After pupation, cloudless sulfurs turn into large beautiful yellow butterflies.

Yellow caterpillar identification

Bright yellow colors and thin green or dark stripes help identify this nocturnal caterpillar.

Six-Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)

six spot burnet caterpillar

The six-spot burnet caterpillar has yellow body with black markings and small spikes

Another yellow caterpillar that looks like a fat slug is the six-spot burnet.

This plump yellow caterpillar goes through various growth stages where it can be pale green with black spots. As it matures, the portly caterpillar has a bright yellow body with black markings. Looking up closely at pictures of the caterpillar, you will also notice tiny fine hairs on its yellow body.

The bright yellow colors contrasting with black spots help to ward off predators that see the caterpillar as easy pickings. If birds do eat this caterpillar, they are in for a nasty surprise as the caterpillar produces poison cyanide that can be lethal.

The common name for this moth comes from the 3 pairs of red spots on the black wings of the adult. This is also a small species of moth with its wingspans being only 1.6” (4 cm) across.

Yellow caterpillar identification

The identification features of the six-spotted burnet caterpillar are its bright yellow body, black markings along its back, a light green stripe on its sides and thin spiny hairs.

Tasar Silkworm Caterpillar (Antheraea mylitta)

tasar silkworm caterpillar

The tasar silkworm caterpillar has plump yellow body with short fine hairs

The tasar silkworm caterpillar is native to India and is also yellow in some of its growth stages.

This is a wild type of silkworm that produces high-quality durable silk. According to studies on the silk, these caterpillars produce stronger silk than the domestic silkworm (Bombyx mori) produces. (3)

What does this yellow species of this caterpillar look like? Its body is fat and plump and the segmented sections are clearly seen. There are short fine white hairs covering the body and you will notice white and red dots around the segments.

After the fat caterpillar emerges from its metamorphosis, it is a stunning type of moth. The silkworm moth has orange or brown wings with a white eye-like dot on each wing.

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda)

pale tussock caterpillar

The pale tussock caterpillar has yellow tufts of hairs and black bands on its body

The common identifying feature of most tussock caterpillars is their fuzzy appearance.

The pale tussock has clumps of lemon-yellow and white hairs covering its body. The tufts of yellow hairs are on the back and white ones on the lower parts above the feet. This species of tussock is identified by the 4 thick tufts of bright yellow hairs on its back segments.

You can often find hairy pale-yellow tussock caterpillars munching their way through willow, birch, and oak leaves.

Yellow caterpillar identification

The main identifying feature of the pale tussock is clumps of bright yellow hairs. There are also black bands separating the yellow segments and red or brown fine hairs near the end section.

Giant Peacock Moth Caterpillar (Saturnia pyri)

giant peacock caterpillar

The giant peacock caterpillar has golden yellow body with blue dots containing stinging spikes

One of the most unusual crawling insects on this list of yellow caterpillars is the giant peacock species. Both the caterpillar and moth are huge insects.

Like many caterpillars, giant peacocks go through a number of growth stages where they change color. After hatching from eggs, the larvae are dark, almost black in color. In time they change to a dark yellow color before turning golden green. You will notice light blue dots called tubercles around the segments. Each tubercle has tiny stinging spikes that cause a lot of skin irritation.

Before they turn into pupas, these large caterpillars grow to nearly 5” (12 cm). When they emerge as brown moths, they are the biggest species of moth in Europe. Their wingspan is a massive 6” to 8” (15 – 20 cm). Their dark gray to brown wings have large eye markings to help confuse predators.

Yellow caterpillar identification

A large golden-green caterpillar with darker orange bands around the middle of the segments and turquoise-blue tubercles and tiny irritating hairs.

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