Caterpillars can be truly spectacular looking! This is a puss moth caterpillar and it feeds on the leaves of willow
trees. When they are resting they will hide the bright pink/red tips of their tails and they’ll tuck their heads down,
making them look just brown and green. But when they’re startled, they’ll try to scare away predators by suddenly
revealing their bright colors.
Did you know that there are over 100,000 kinds of caterpillars in the world?? That means there are ten times more kinds of caterpillars than birds! There are about a thousand different caterpillars in South Jersey. How many kinds of caterpillars do you think you’ve seen?
Caterpillars are the young of moths and butterflies, and about nine out of ten of them will turn into moths. Caterpillars are eating machines and they can eat SO much that many kinds don’t need to eat at all once they become moths or butterflies! Caterpillars have to shed their skins to grow, just like other kinds of insects.
This is a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar, and it kind of looks like a snake! They have spots that appear
to be big eyes, but they’re fake. The real eyes are on their little heads (tucked down in this picture).
The horned hickory devil is the biggest caterpillar in the eastern United States! They’re about the size of
a hot dog and covered in hard spines that would make it difficult for a bird to eat them.
Most caterpillars can only eat one or a few types of plants that are native to their area, so if you want to help caterpillars make sure to plant native species that are from New Jersey. Oaks (there are many species) are common in our area, and they are *the* best food of all for many kinds of caterpillars. In fact, over 500 types of caterpillars eat oak leaves!
Caterpillars are the favorite food of many kinds of birds so without caterpillars we would love many many bird species. Even though birds like to eat them, some caterpillars are able to hide from birds. Some of them are hard to see (they are camouflaged) and some of them have hairs or spines that make them hard for birds to swallow them.
Have you ever seen a caterpillar in the Fall that was wandering around crawling over a path, driveway or fence? If you see a big caterpillar that is not on a leaf, there’s a good chance that it’s about to turn into a moth or butterfly! They wander around looking for a place where they’ll feel comfortable making turning into a pupa.
Caterpillars will turn into pupa, which is the stage of life where they’ll start to turn into a moth or butterfly.
The pupa can have a hard shiny shell called a chrysalis (which is what butterflies make), or it can be
wrapped inside a type of silk called a cocoon (which is what many moths make). Some moths don’t
build cocoons at all and just live underground while they turn into a moth.
If you want to learn more about some beautiful caterpillars (and see what they turn into), check out the link below:
Let’s also try a craft where you can learn to make caterpillar out of grass!
Grass Seed Caterpillar Craft
Contributed by Leanne Guenther
An adorable caterpillar craft made out of an egg carton that lets kids grow and care for their very own grass! This craft is suitable for a spring theme, insect theme or just for fun!
- egg carton
- pipe cleaners
- grass seed
- Optional: wiggly eyes
- Buy grass seed.
- Cut the egg carton in half so that you have a line of six egg carton cups that are still attached. Trim the edges of the cups so that they stay attached but look a little more "clean". All of the scissor work will require the assistance of an adult or older child.
- Paint the outside of the cups with whatever color you want. I chose orange because I wanted a bright color that would contrast with the grass.
- If you paint the insides of the cups as well it will make watering the grass easier because the cardboard won't get as soggy.
- Punch two holes in one of the end cups and put a pipe cleaner in them to make insect antennas.
- Glue wiggly eyes or draw eyes onto the head of your caterpillar and draw a mouth as well.
- Plant the grass seed, this can be a messy process so make sure you do this on newspaper or outside:
Fill all six cups with dirt so that it is about half a centimeter from the top.
Sprinkle the grass seed over the dirt in all of the cups. Sprinkle a fair amount because not all of it will grow.
Sprinkle a little bit more dirt over the grass seed.
- Now wait and watch your grass grow!
- It is important to water the grass every day. Don't use too much water or else you will overwater the grass and make the cardboard soggy. I used a syringe to water my grass so that I could have better control over the amount of water that the grass got.
Once your grass starts getting really long you can give it a "haricut" so it will start growing more again. This is also a messy process so do it outside or place newspaper under the area you are doing it.
- NOTE: Cats like to nibble on the growing grass as a treat so either keep it away from your cat (good luck with that, hehe) or warn your children that their craft is going to be a caterpillar cat snack.