While many caterpillars display subdued palettes that help them blend into their surroundings, a few prefer more vivid coloration. While lime green caterpillars live throughout the world -- from the toxic Costa Rican hairy caterpillar to the British poplar hawk and sword-grass moths -- in the United States, several species stand out for their distinctive shades.
Luna moths, also called giant silkworm moths, are lime green as caterpillars. After they hatch, they spend three or four weeks eating and growing, until they reach 2.5 inches. At that time, they create a cocoon out of silk and a leaf. If it’s fall, they remain in the cocoon throughout the winter; otherwise, they develop into adults in two or three weeks. After they emerge from the cocoon, they live for about a week, just long enough to mate and lay eggs.
Both hackberry and tawny emperor caterpillars are light to medium green, with some displaying bright lime coloration. Hackberry emperor caterpillars have dots on their backs, while tawny emperors display a solid line. Both species survive winters by building communal nests in hackberry trees. Their color fades to brown to help conceal them, and in the spring they emerge to continue feeding until they’re large enough to enter their cocoons.
Io moths live throughout the southern and eastern United States. Caterpillars range from yellow to light green to teal, but all have red and white lines down their bodies. They also sport green or yellow spines, which have poison glands that can deliver a painful sting to people. Io caterpillars feed on leaves for a few weeks before spinning their cocoons. Adults may live for only a day, dying soon after they breed.
Cecropia silkmoths live throughout the eastern United States and west to the Rocky Mountains. During the later instars -- phases between molts -- the caterpillars’ colors vary; they might be black, yellow, lime green, darker green or a combination. Their spines also reflect an array of colors. The caterpillars feed until they’re 4.5 inches, usually around five weeks, and then they develop cocoons.
The Velvetbean caterpillar, Anticarsia gemmatalis, also vary in color, from brown and black to light green to lime. They feed on soybeans, peas and other plants that develop pods, garnering them the reputation of agricultural pests. Caterpillars eat for two weeks to a month, reaching around 2 inches long. Rather than spinning a cocoon on a tree or leaf, they conceal themselves in the ground to undergo their metamorphosis.
Polyphemous moth caterpillars stand out because of their size -- they can be 3.5 inches long -- and multicolored bodies. On a bright green or lime base, they show off silver and red spots, yellow stripes and brown “v” shapes.
- Fairfax County Public Schools: Island Creek Elementary School: Study of Northern Virginia Ecology: Luna Moth
- Butterfly Fun Facts: Hackberry Emperor Butterfly
- Butterfly Fun Facts: Tawny Emperor
- University of Florida: Featured Creatures: Io Moth
- Butterflies and Moths of North America: Attributes of Hyalophora cecropia: Cecropia silkmoth
- University of Florida: Featured Creatures: Common Name - Cecropia Moth, Cecropia Silkmoth, Robin Moth
- United States Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service: Southern Insect Management Research Unit: Velvetbean Caterpillar
- Fairfax County Public Schools: Polyphemous Moth