8 Types of Caterpillars in Arizona (Pictures)

There are many different types of caterpillars in Arizona. From the white-lined sphinx moth to the banded woolly bear caterpillars, these little creatures can be quite fascinating.

Caterpillars are the immature stage of many types of moths and butterflies and go through several molts before pupating into their adult form. Some caterpillars are considered pests, while others are an essential part of the ecosystem, helping to break down dead plants and trees.

This aids in the fertilization of the soil. They also provide food for different animals, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.

What’s more, some caterpillars can be used as natural pest control for crops. For example, the caterpillars of the Cactus Moth eat the prickly pear cactus, which helps to control the spread of this invasive plant.

Caterpillars in Arizona

Are you interested in learning more about caterpillars in Arizona? Below is a list of 8 species of caterpillars in Arizona you should know about:

1. White-Lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

white lined sphinx moth caterpillar on a plant stalk
White-lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar | image by Renee Grayson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Hyles lineata

The White-lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar is common in Arizona, especially after the monsoon season. These striking caterpillars are often seen crawling up walls or across sidewalks in search of food. While they may look intimidating, they are actually harmless to humans.

White-lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillars are voracious eaters, and their diet consists primarily of leaves from trees such as grapes, gaura lindheimeri, tomato, pentas, willo-weed, and purslane. In fact, a single caterpillar can consume an entire leaf in just a few minutes.

While this may seem like bad news for plants, the caterpillars actually play an essential role in the ecosystem. They help to control plant growth by keeping leaf populations in check. In addition, their waste provides a valuable source of nutrients for other organisms.

White-lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillars can be easily identified by their black bodies and white stripes. They typically measure 2.7” (70 mm) long but can grow up to 3 inches in length.

2. The Cabbage Looper

cabbage looper on a brown stem
Cabbage Looper | image by Justin Lauria via Unsplash

Scientific Name: Trichoplusia ni

The Cabbage Looper is a species of harmless green caterpillar found in Arizona. They are typically light green or brown in color and have a distinctive white stripe running along their backs.

It’s easy to identify the cabbage loopers thanks to their yellowish-green heads and soft yellow bands running around their bodies, separating each segment.

They can also be identified by their smooth bodies and how they move – they “loop” along as they crawl. These tiny green caterpillars feed on various plants, including cabbages, lettuce, and other garden greens, and can be pretty destructive. Cabbage Loopers are most active in the spring and summer and can measure 1.2 inches to 1.5 inches (30 to 40 mm) before pupation.

3. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

colorful cecropia caterpillar on the underside of a leaf
Cecropia Moth Caterpillar | image by Marvin Smith via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Hyalophora cecropia)

The cecropia moth is North America’s largest native moth, with a wingspan of 5-7 inches ( 13-18cm). Their caterpillars are incredibly fascinating and are found in Arizona, Florida, and other parts of the Southwestern United States.

The cecropia moth caterpillar is enormous, reaching up to 5 inches (125 mm) in length. This giant caterpillar is bluish-green with yellow, blue, and orange ball-like pointed tubercles running along its body, sitting on its ridged segments.

The Cecropia Moth Caterpillars eat various things, including leaves from trees and shrubs such as lilac, plum, wild cherry, apple, willow, box elder, and maple, and can be found in most parts of the state in late spring and during the summer.

4. Banded Woolly Bear Caterpillar

woolly bear caterpillar crawling on a leaf litter
Woolly Bear Caterpillar | image by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr | Public Domain Mark 1.0

Scientific Name: Pyrrharctia isabella

The Banded Woolly Bear Caterpillar is found throughout Arizona. It is typically black with a band of rust-colored or brown-orange fur around its middle and can grow up to 2 inches or 50 mm in length before pupation.

These caterpillars eat various things but prefer to feed on the leaves of plants in the aster family. They can be identified by their long, black hair and the fact that they curl into a ball when disturbed. The wooly bear is most active in the fall but can be found from late summer through early winter.

This orange-black furry caterpillar doesn’t sting, and its fur doesn’t irritate human skin. However, be careful around these caterpillars as their pointy fur can cause dermatitis in some individuals.

5. Common Buckeye Caterpillar

common buckeye caterpillar on a green stem
Common Buckeye Caterpillar | image by Timothy Dykes via Unsplash

Scientific Name: Junonia coenia

The common buckeye caterpillar is found in the southwestern United States, including Arizona. It is black, with brightly-colored orange spiny markings with a bright brown or orange head. This caterpillar species also has other color variations. Some are spiky black with brown markings and white stripes running down their bodies, while others are covered in miniature white speckles.

This caterpillar feeds on a variety of plants, including buckeye trees, snap beans, soybeans, lima beans, alfalfa, clover, and various ornamentals.

When it is ready to pupate, it spins a cocoon in which it will spend the winter. The adult Common Buckeye is a beautiful butterfly with brown wings, each with a large, round, orange-ringed black spot.

The Common Buckeye Caterpillar is also notable for its symbiotic relationship with ants. The ants protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites, while the caterpillars provide the ants with food. This mutualistic relationship benefits both species.

6. Monarch Caterpillar

two monarch caterpillar eating leaves
Monarch Caterpillar | image by Virginia Costanzo via Pixabay

Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus

Monarch caterpillars (the monarch butterfly larva) are a species of caterpillar found throughout the U.S. and in Arizona. These beautiful creatures are typically black or dark brown in color and have white and yellow banded stripes running around their abdomen, with spiky horns at each end of their striped abdomens.

In Arizona, monarch caterpillars can grow up to 1.7 inches or 45 mm long. These huge black and white caterpillars only feed on milkweed. Hence, they’re often poisonous to predators such as birds and mammals.

7. Tobacco Hornworm

tobacco caterpillar on a green stem
Tobacco Hornworm | image by Erda Estremera via Unsplash

Scientific Name: Manduca sexta

The tobacco hornworm caterpillars are found in Arizona. They are the Hawkmoth’s larval stage and are commonly found on tobacco plants. However, you can also find them on other plants in the Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.

The caterpillars are green, with white stripes running down their sides. The tobacco hornworm caterpillars have a black “horn” on their rear end, which gives them their name.

The caterpillars are typically 2.7-3.5 inches long but can reach lengths up to 5 inches. The Tobacco Hornworms are voracious eaters and can quickly strip a plant of its leaves.

As a result, they can cause significant damage to crops. Farmers often use pesticides to control the population of these caterpillars.

8. Two-Tailed Swallowtail Caterpillar

top view of two tailed swallowtail caterpillar
Two-Tailed Swallowtail Caterpillar | image by Whitney Cranshaw via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0 US

Scientific Name: Papilio multicaudata

The Two-Tailed Swallowtail Caterpillar is the larvae of the stunning two-tailed swallowtail, Arizona’s state butterfly. These caterpillars are easily identified by their conspicuous eyespots, chubby green bodies with bands of tiny dark dots across their segments, and long, black and yellow striped tails.

While their large size (up to four inches long!) and bright colors might make them seem tough, they are quite delicate. The best way to find them is by looking for their food source: leaves from the ash, cottonwood, and sycamore trees.

Two-tailed swallowtail caterpillars can be found throughout Arizona in late spring and early summer. They feed on the leaves of a variety of host plants, including ash, willow, cottonwood, milkweed, sycamore trees, and wild cherry.

When disturbed, the Two-Tailed Swallowtail Caterpillar will flick its tails in a rapid motion to startle predators and make them think twice about attacking!