Skip to main content
Select Source:

caterpillar

caterpillar (kăt´əpĬl´ər, kăt´ər–), common name for the larva of a moth or butterfly. Caterpillars have distinct heads and are segmented and wormlike. They have three pairs of short, jointed legs (retained in the adult) on the thorax; in addition, they have unjointed, fleshy appendages, called prolegs, on some abdominal segments. The prolegs end in clusters of tiny hooks. There is a row of simple eyes on either side of the body. Sawfly larvae are often mistaken for caterpillars, but their prolegs have no hooks and they have a single simple eye on each side. Almost all caterpillars are vegetarian and have strong jaws for chewing. The chewing mouth parts and the prolegs disappear during the pupa stage, as the larva is transformed into an adult. Caterpillars have silk glands that open into a mouth part called the spinneret. The caterpillar exudes a silk strand continuously as it moves along; small caterpillars swing by the strand when dropping from a height. Many caterpillars use the thread to build a cocoon in which to pupate. Most molt their skin (to accommodate growth) five or six times before pupation. Some caterpillars have smooth skin; others are hairy, such as the woolly bear, or hedgehog, caterpillar of the Isabella tiger moth. The caterpillars of the larger night-flying moths (e.g., the luna moth and polyphemus moth) are smooth and green and may be over 3 in. (7.5 cm) long. Caterpillars are equipped with various protective devices. The io moth caterpillar has sharp spines connected with glands that secrete an irritating substance. Others have irritating bristles, and the swallowtail butterfly larva emits a repellent odor when disturbed. Nevertheless, caterpillars form the major part of the diet of many birds and other animals. Caterpillars are voracious eaters and some cause considerable economic damage. Among these are the appleworm, the cutworm, and the larvae of the bee moth, the codling moth, and the clothes moth. Some moths and butterflies remain caterpillars for two or three months, others for about 10 months, hibernating through the winter in this stage. In the Arctic are some forms that require two or three years to develop from egg to adult.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"caterpillar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"caterpillar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caterpillar

"caterpillar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caterpillar

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

caterpillar

cat·er·pil·lar / ˈkatə(r)ˌpilər/ • n. 1. the larva of a butterfly or moth, having a segmented wormlike body with three pairs of true legs and several pairs of leglike appendages. ∎  (in general use) any similar larva of various insects, esp. sawflies. 2. (also caterpillar track or tread) trademark an articulated steel band passing around the wheels of a vehicle for travel on rough ground. ∎  a vehicle with such tracks. ORIGIN: late Middle English: perhaps from a variant of Old French chatepelose, literally ‘hairy cat,’ influenced by obsolete piller ‘ravager.’ The association with “cat”is found in other languages, e.g., Swiss German Teufelskatz (literally ‘devil's cat’), Lombard gatta (literally ‘cat’). Compare with French chaton, English catkin, resembling hairy caterpillars.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"caterpillar." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"caterpillar." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar-0

"caterpillar." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

caterpillar

caterpillar XV. The earliest recorded form, catyrpel, is prob. — AN. var. of OF. chatepelose ‘hairy cat’; assoc. in XVI with †piller ravager, plunderer (see PILLAGE), prob. brought about the extended form in -piller, -pillar.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"caterpillar." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"caterpillar." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar-1

"caterpillar." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

caterpillar

caterpillar Worm-like larva of a butterfly or moth; it has a segmented body, short antennae, simple eyes, three pairs of true legs and chewing mouthparts. Nearly all caterpillars feed voraciously on plants and are serious crop pests.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"caterpillar." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"caterpillar." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caterpillar

"caterpillar." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/caterpillar

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

caterpillar

caterpillar Larval stage of Lepidoptera, although sometimes the term is also applied to larval Symphyta (sawflies).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"caterpillar." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"caterpillar." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar

"caterpillar." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

caterpillar

caterpillarAdela, bailer, bailor, baler, Benguela, bewailer, derailleur, hailer, inhaler, jailer, loudhailer, mailer, nailer, railer, retailer, sailer, sailor, scaler, Scheele, shillelagh, tailor, Taylor, trailer, Venezuela, wailer, whaler •fabler • Daimler • blackmailer •abseiler • wassailer • boardsailor •wholesaler •appealer, candela, Coahuila, concealer, dealer, feeler, healer, Keeler, kneeler, Leila, peeler, Philomela, reeler, revealer, Schiele, sealer, sheila, Shelagh, spieler, squealer, stealer, tequila, velar, Vila, wheeler, wheeler-dealer •enfant terrible •Anguilla, Aquila, Attila, Camilla, cedilla, chiller, chinchilla, driller, Drusilla, fibrillar, filler, flotilla, fulfiller, Godzilla, gorilla, griller, guerrilla, killer, Manila, manilla, mantilla, miller, pillar, Priscilla, sapodilla, sarsaparilla, Schiller, scilla, scintilla, spiller, swiller, thriller, tiller, vanilla, vexilla, villa, Willa, willer, zorilla •kiblah • fiddler •kindler, swindler •sniffler • sigla • stickler •sprinkler, twinkler, winkler •Himmler, Simla •crippler •Hitler, Littler, Mitla •grizzler • Polyfilla • drosophila •downhiller • Angela • painkiller •weedkiller • ladykiller • Pamela •similar, verisimilar •propyla • caterpillar • canceller •councillor (US councilor), counsellor (US counselor)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"caterpillar." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Feb. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"caterpillar." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar

"caterpillar." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/caterpillar

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.