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In May you can meet numerous caterpillars preparing for their next stage of life. Overall you can
20 species in Central Europe, which are often foraging in the last month of spring.

In a nutshell

  • most caterpillars are moth larvae
  • they are clearly recognizable by their size, color and markings
  • final size is only reached after repeated moulting
  • each species prefers a specific food source

Types from A - D

Agate Owl (Phlogophora meticulosa)

Source: Olei, Phlogophora.meticulosa.6964, edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Synonyms: agate moth, agate owl moth
  • Central to Southern Europe, North Africa, Near East
  • Wet meadows, forest edges, gardens, parks, urban areas
  • 40mm
  • reddish brown (old), green to dark brown (young)
  • Back line, a white spot with black border on both sides
  • Nettles, dandelion, blackberry leaves, lettuce
  • hatches 3 to 6 weeks after pupation in July
  • Pest for ornamental plants, vegetables, fruit trees

Bluehead (Diloba caeruleocephala)

Source: Ilia Ustyantsev from Russia, Diloba caeruleocephala (larva) - Figure of eight (caterpillar) - Синеголовка (гусеница) (40163801885), edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Europe, North Africa, Near East
  • Orchards, forest edges, bushes, vineyards
  • 40mm
  • green, blue, blue-grey, light brown, dark brown, black (depending on stage)
  • Back lines (yellow), dorsal stripes (black), subdorsal bands (yellow), 2 head spots (black), spots on side and back (yellow)
  • Bristles are recognizable
  • Rose plants (e.g. apple, cherry or whitebeam trees), oaks, willows
  • hatches Aug

Brown bear (Arctia caja)

  • Europe, Lapland, North America, Asia
  • Forest areas (no specialization), meadows, bogs, gravel pits, sand pits, urban areas, lawns
  • up to 60 mm
  • dark brown, black bristles
  • white spotted
  • Herbs, shrubs, trees such as raspberries, blackberries, nettles, willows or oaks
  • hatches July
  • plays dead in case of danger

Broad-winged band owl (Noctua comes)

Source: Olei, Noctua.comes.6967, edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Synonyms: Lederbraune Bandeule, Primeleule
  • Europe to Scotland and Scandinavian south coasts, North Africa, Western Asia, southern Russia and the Caucasus, North America
  • has no habitat requirements
  • 60mm
  • brown, head light beige
  • light side bands, dark spotted (triangular shape)
  • numerous herbs and trees, including lavender, tulips or sour cherries
  • hatches June

Types of E - G

Oak Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea processionea)

  • Southern Europe, Central Europe, Southern Russia, Near East
  • Oak forests, mixed oak forests, urban areas, parks
  • 50mm
  • yellow-brown, gray-blue, black
  • dark back stripe
  • Oaks, rarely other trees
  • hatches late June to early July
  • oak pest
  • Burning hairs can trigger caterpillar dermatitis
  • People with allergies should avoid contact
  • live in communities of up to 30 individuals
  • move (processions) in groups

Oak moth (Lasiocampa quercus)

  • Synonym: quince bird
  • Europe
  • sparse forests, moors, tree lines
  • 80mm
  • black to brown-grey
  • Diamonds on each segment, yellow and brown
  • Trees such as blackberries, heather or blueberries, less often on oaks
  • hatches at the end of June
  • Stinging hairs contain nettle poison

Great Frost Moth (Erannis defoliaria)

  • Northern Europe, Central Europe to northern Italy and the Balkans
  • Deciduous forests, bushes, parks, house gardens
  • 32mm
  • yellow-brown, red-brown, black-brown
  • Side stripes (yellow) in different thicknesses
  • Deciduous trees, including oak, beech, elm, birch, hornbeam, linden
  • hatches late June to mid-July
  • considered a forest pest

Gothica kitten-owl (Orthosia gothica)

  • Synonyms: gray spring owl, tawny spring owl, gothic owl
  • Europe, Asia to Japan, Arctic Circle
  • urban areas, cultural landscapes, forest edges, heathland, clearings
  • 40mm
  • yellow-green
  • Dots (yellow), thin lateral and dorsal lines (white), side stripes (white),
  • various trees, including roses, blueberries, nettles, hornbeams
  • hatches mid-July to late August

Big fox (Nymphalis polychloros)

  • Southern Europe, Central Europe (rarely), North Africa, Asia Minor, southern Russia to the Caucasus, Urals, Himalayas
  • Forest edges, loose forests, parks, meadow orchards, home gardens
  • 45 to 50mm
  • dark gray to black
  • Binding on the back (orange)
  • Outgrowths of thorns in orange are present
  • various deciduous trees including pears, sal willows, aspen and cherry trees
  • hatches July to August

Types of H - O

housemother (Noctua pronuba)

  • Europe, Iceland, North Africa, Western Asia to Afghanistan, north-western India, Siberia, North America
  • forests, open country
  • 60mm
  • yellow-green to brown
  • Longitudinal stripes (light brown), dotted with black
  • numerous woody plants and herbs, including rapeseed, cabbage, heather, willow and stinging nettles
  • hatches June

Lesser Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

  • Synonym: nettle butterfly
  • Europe to Atlantic, Asia to Pacific
  • up to 3,000 m altitude
  • 30mm
  • black
  • longitudinal stripes (yellow)
  • provided with thorns
  • Young caterpillars live together in webs
  • exclusively stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
  • hatches late May to August

Lesser peacock moth (Saturnia pavonia)

  • Europe to Siberia
  • Shrubs, open terrain, sparse wooded areas
  • 60mm
  • black (juvenile caterpillars), green (adult specimens)
  • Spots on juveniles (orange), rings on adult caterpillars (black)
  • Juveniles are hairy
  • Warts (yellow, pink) visible
  • mainly rose trees, including blueberries, blackberries, sloe, apple
  • hatches April to May (after the pupae have overwintered)

Mullein monk (Cucullia verbasci)

  • Brown Monk
  • Europe with the exception of Northern Europe, Western Asia to Afghanistan, northwestern Africa
  • Dry grassland, heather, parkland, wasteland, rocky slopes
  • 50mm
  • white, green-white, yellow-white
  • black spots (head), black spots (body), black dashes (body), transverse bands on each segment (yellow)
  • hairy
  • mainly mulleins, more rarely figworts
  • hatches April to June

Map (Araschnia levana)

  • Synonym: map butterfly
  • northern Spain, Central Europe from the Alps to the coast, Central Asia, Korea, Japan
  • Forest edges, sparse forest areas, intermediate moors, floodplains
  • 25mm
  • black
  • spotted light brown (side)
  • provided with black thorns
  • Caterpillars live together in societies
  • nettles
  • hatches mid-April to June or July to August (depending on generation)

Types of P - R

Plum spider moth (Yponomeuta padella)

  • Europe to Saint Petersburg, southern Caucasus, Central Asia, southern Kazakhstan, North America
  • no preference (depending on food crops)
  • 15mm to 25mm
  • green-grey (body), black (head), white (juvenile caterpillars)
  • black dotted
  • live together in cocoons
  • Cherry, sloe, hawthorn, plum
  • hatches June to mid-July
  • crop pest

Pyramidal Owl (Amphipyra pyramidea)

Source: Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England, 73.062 BF2297 Copper Underwing, Amphipyra pyramidea, larva. (3530961311), edited by Plantopedia, CC BY 2.0
  • Europe, Asia (temperate zone)
  • Forest areas, parks, home gardens
  • 40mm to 42mm
  • a pyramidal hump is visible at the end of the abdomen
  • light green
  • white dotted, continuous lateral line
  • Deciduous trees and numerous shrubs, including hazel, willow, ash, sycamore, raspberry
  • hatches at the end of June

Ring moth (Malacosoma neustria)

  • Distribution: Europe to the Black Sea, with the exception of Northern Europe
  • Habitat: meadow orchards, parks, sparse woodland, hedges
  • Length: 60mm
  • Colour: intense blue-grey
  • Markings: top line (white), vertical stripes (yellow, orange, dark shades), head with 2 dots (black), resemble eyes
  • hairy on the sides
  • Food: mainly sloe, other deciduous trees such as pedunculate oaks, pears or apples are not scorned
  • Butterfly hatching: end of June
  • Caterpillar is a bioindicator for near-natural gardens and meadows

Types from S - Z

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

  • Europe, Asia to Japan, North Africa
  • Fields, home gardens, sunny, open landscapes
  • 45mm
  • black (juvenile caterpillars), green (adult specimens), rarely white
  • Young caterpillars spotted (orange) and with a saddle patch (white), adult specimens with horizontal stripes (black) and spots (yellow, orange-red)
  • Young caterpillars use mimese in the form of bird droppings as protection against predators
  • native umbellifers such as carrots, fennel or dill, more rarely on citrus plants
  • hatches mid-April, July, September (depending on generation)

Peacock butterfly (Aglais io)

  • Central Europe, Asia, Japan
  • Open woodland, house gardens, parks, up to 2,500 m altitude
  • 40mm to 42mm
  • black
  • white spotted
  • provided with thorns
  • Caterpillars live together in groups
  • mainly stinging nettle, other types of stinging nettle and hops are used less frequently
  • hatch June, August (depending on generation)

Hawthorn Owl (Allophyes oxyacanthae)

Source: Harald Süpfle, Allophyes oxyacanthae 04 (HS), edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Europe, exceptions are Iberia, Pyrenees, Mediterranean islands
  • Forests, forest edges, clearings
  • 60mm
  • light or dark blue-green, brown-grey, light brown (head), light gray (underside)
  • dark striped, air holes outlined in black or white, 4 light colored warts per segment, blue-red striped (underside)
  • Hawthorn, apple, sour cherry, less commonly cotoneaster and pears are sought as food sources
  • hatches at the end of August

frequently asked Questions

What are after caterpillars?

The after caterpillars are a group of larvae that look very similar to the butterfly caterpillars, but do not belong to them. It is the larvae of the beak flies (Mecoptera) and sawflies (Symphyta) that are common pests for a variety of trees and shrubs. The biggest difference is the number of free segments between the abdominal feet and sternum. Butterfly caterpillars have two, deer caterpillars only one.

How can caterpillars be supported?

The caterpillars presented show what food they eat. You have to plant or sow the corresponding plants in the previous year or in spring, because the animals mainly feed on living plants.

How to increase the variety of butterflies in the garden?

To make your garden butterfly-friendly, you need to provide the insects with a variety of native flowering plants. A bed or wild corner of wildflowers is fine to start with, but can be expanded to include a barely mown wildflower meadow. As an alternative, place some flower boxes and butterfly hotels.

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