Fun Facts About
Caterpillars
Caterpillars are very interesting bugs since they are born very, very small, eat so much,
grow very rapidly, and then transform into beautiful butterflies or really neat moths.

Caterpillars are nicknamed “eating machines” since all they do is eat, eat and eat!

There are about 180,000 different species or types of caterpillars.

Many caterpillars are camouflaged to blend into their host plant and their environment, yet
other caterpillars have beautiful, bright colors!

The life span of a caterpillar is approximately from two to four weeks.

Predators of caterpillars include birds, mammals, wasps and other caterpillars.

Caterpillars have three body parts, a head, thorax and abdomen, as all insects do.  They
have a hard, outer covering called an exoskeleton.

Caterpillars have eight pairs of legs.  Sixteen legs are a lot of legs!  The first three pairs of
legs are jointed with hooks, are called thoracic legs and will become the butterfly’s legs.  A
butterfly only uses four out of their six legs since the other two legs are in the front and
against its body.   The other five pairs of legs are called prolegs, are very stumpy and allow
the caterpillar to climb extremely well.

Caterpillars have six pairs of small, simple eyes called ocelli, and also called stemmata.  
Twelve eyes are a lot of eyes!  These eyes cannot see images, but can detect light
intensity.  

Caterpillars sense touch through their antennae and also through their tiny hair, called
setae, which are all over their bodies.

Caterpillars breathe through little holes on the sides of their bodies called spiracles, not
through its mouth.  The mouth and strong jaws, called mandibles are just for chewing their
food!

The life cycle of butterflies and moths is called complete metamorphosis.  Butterflies and
moths have four stages of life:  egg, larva, pupa, and adult.  Butterflies lay eggs on plant
leaves. As soon as a caterpillar is born, it is called a larva of either a butterfly or a moth.  It
eats and eats and eats.  Sooner than later, it turns into a pupa.  The pupa stage is where it
goes into a chrysalis (caterpillar) or a cocoon (moth.)  In the pupa stage, a lot is
happening! This is when the caterpillar body transforms into a butterfly or a moth,
antennae are formed, wings are finishing forming, and mouthparts are transformed.  
Eventually, a beautiful butterfly or moth emerges and the adult stage begins, but it cannot
fly right away since its wings are wet and small. When the wings are dry and the muscles
are exercised, it can fly off the host plant.

Most caterpillars are herbivores, which mean they only eat plants, such as leaves and fruit,
while some species of caterpillars will eat other insects or insect eggs, or even other
caterpillars, such as the Zebra Swallowtail caterpillar.

Most caterpillars shed just like snakes.  Caterpillars grow so much and so quick, its skin
becomes too tight.  When this happens, it will shed its old skin, just like snakes do.  This
is called “molting.”  Then the same thing will happen again, and again.  Shedding of the
skin usually happens about 4-5 times.  Right before a caterpillar sheds for the last time, it
may not look anything like how it looked when it was a baby! It’s much bigger, may be fuzzy
now and grown hair, have different colors, bristles, tufts called “pencils,” or even spines.

Did you know that it is a myth that caterpillars eat everything?  They are actually extremely
picky eaters.  Most species of butterflies eat only leaves of a single type of plant or fruit, or a
group of closely related plants.  The main plant a caterpillar consumes is called the host
plant for that butterfly or moth species. For example, Monarch butterflies will only eat
milkweed plants, Tiger Swallowtail butterflies will only eat the leaves from black cherry
trees, and Black Swallowtail butterflies eat only parsley, dill, fennel and rue.

Caterpillars have something called a spinneret, which is a silk stranding.   This is what it
uses to drop and swing, and lets it go even when it walks, and is also used as a wrap to
make its chrysalis or cocoon.

Believe it or not, some caterpillars are actually poisonous!  Caterpillars get their toxicity
from the food it eats. For instance, when the Monarch caterpillar eats their food, milkweed
plants, the plants themselves have toxins in them.  So when the caterpillar ingests the
plants, they ingest the toxins.  The toxins do not harm the caterpillars, but actually helps
them by helping to keep predators away.  If a caterpillar is brightly colored, it is probably
poisonous, so be careful.  

The most well-known and famous caterpillar/butterfly in North America is the Monarch
caterpillar/butterfly.  The caterpillar is usually has yellow, black, and white stripes, and
when it changes into a butterfly, it is orange and black with small white spots in certain
areas.
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