T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Caterpillars are the larval form of members of the order Lepidoptera (the insect order comprising butterflies and moths). They are mostly herbivorous in food habit, although some species are insectivorous. Caterpillars are voracious feeders and many of them are considered to be pests in agriculture. Many moth species are better known in their caterpillar stages because of the damage they cause to fruits and other agricultural produce.

Many animals feed on caterpillars as they are rich in protein. As a result caterpillars have evolved various means of defense. The appearance of a caterpillar can often repel a predator: its markings and certain body parts can make it seem poisonous, or bigger in size and thus threatening, or non-edible. Some types of caterpillars are indeed poisonous.
More aggressive self-defense measures are taken by some caterpillars. These measures include having spiny bristles or long fine hair-like setae with detachable tips that will irritate by lodging in the skin or mucous membranes. Other caterpillars acquire toxins from their host plants that render them unpalatable to most of their predators. The most aggressive caterpillar defenses are bristles associated with venom glands. These bristles are called urticating hairs
Plants contain toxins which protect them from herbivores, but some caterpillars have evolved countermeasures which enable them to eat the leaves of such toxic plants. In addition to being unaffected by the poison, the caterpillars sequester it in their body, making them highly toxic to predators. The chemicals are also carried on into the adult stages. These toxic species, such as the Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) and monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillars, usually advertise themselves with the danger colors of red, yellow and black, often in bright stripes (see aposematism). Any predator that attempts to eat a caterpillar with an aggressive defense mechanism will learn and avoid future attempts.
Some caterpillars regurgitate acidic digestive juices at attacking enemies. Many papilionid larvae produce bad smells from extrudable glands called osmeteria.

Caterpillars of moths and butterfies.

Caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

Caterpillar of Common Bag Moth (Liothula omnivora)

Caterpillar of the Common Forest Looper (Pseudocoremia suavis)  

Caterpillar of the Greasy Cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon)

Caterpillar of the White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)

Caterpillar of the Cabbage Looper (Trichoplusia ni) 

Caterpillar of the Gum Emperor Moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti)

Caterpillar of the Kawakawa Looper (Cleora scriptaria) 

Caterpillar of the Kowhai moth (Uresiphita polygonalis maorialis)

Caterpillar of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) 

Caterpillar of the Magpie Moth (Nyctemera  annulata) 

Caterpillar of the Porina moth) Wiseana spp.

We appreciate and thank the following experts for Identifying some of these invertebrates,

Thanks to members of Nature Watch NZ. http://naturewatch.org.nz/
Thanks to John Early | Curator Entomology | Auckland War Memorial Museum for his identifiaction.
Thanks to Leonie Clunie of  Landcare Research, New Zealand for her help in identification.
Thanks to Dr Robert Hoare, of Landcare Research NZ for his help in identification.
Thanks to Phil Sirvid Curator of Te Papa's Spiders collection for identifing the spiders photographs on this site
Thanks to Mary Morgan-Richards, of Massey university for identifying some of the invertebrates http://www.massey.ac.nz/
Thanks to Peter Collins of Canterbury Museum for identifying some of the invertebrateshttp://www.canterburymuseum.com/
Thanks to Cor Vink of Landcare Research NZ.. or identifying some of the invertebrateshttp://www.landcareresearch.co.nz
Thanks to Trevor Crosby of Landcare Research NZ.. or identifying some of the invertebrates
Thanks to Philip Howe of South Canterbury Museum at Timaru for identifing some of the invertebrates http://www.timaru.govt.nz/museum.html
Thanks to Dr Richard Rowe, Zoology & Tropical Ecology, Australia.
Thanks to Geoff Tuffy for identification of some dragonflies.


New Zealnd Pest and Beneficial Insects"  Lincoln University
"New Zealand Insec Pests" by D N Ferro
"New Zealand Insects and thier Host Plants" D Spiller & K Wise
"Insects of New Zealand" by Brian Parkinson
"Know your New Zealand Insects and spiders" John Early
"Which New Zealand Insect?".Andrew Crowe
"Insects and Spiders" by John Early.
"Spiders of New Zealand" by Ray and Lyn Forster

also the following sites