45mm. Clusters on cabbages, lettuces and nasturtiums. Bright spotted body warns of foul taste
Large white caterpillars are found in March and October but are most common in July and August. Adults are active between April and September.
Small tortoiseshell caterpillar
Small tortoiseshell caterpillar Aglais urticae
30mm. Clusters in a silk web on nettles until nearly fully grown; crawls away separately to pupate.
Small tortoiseshell caterpillars can be seen from May to June, with adults potentially being active all year.
Comma caterpillarPolygonia c-album
35mm. On hops and stinging nettles; hatchlings resemble bird droppings, soon developing white ‘saddle’ mark.
Comma caterpillars are seen from late April to mid-September. Comma butterflies are active all year round.
Cinnabar moth caterpillar
Cinnabar moth caterpillar Tyria jacobaeae
28mm. On common ragwort, often shredding the plants. ‘Boom and bust’ population fluctuations locally. These black and yellow caterpillars are very distinctive and easy to identify as they look like they’re wearing a rugby shirt.
Cinnabar moth caterpillars can be found feeding from July to early September. Adults fly from May to early August.
Buff-tip moth caterpillar
Buff-tip moth caterpillar Phalera bucephala
70mm. On oak leaves. After hatching from egg cluster, larvae feed together, moving off alone when larger.
Buff-tip moth caterpillars are found between July and early October. Adults are active from late May to July.
Pale tussock moth caterpillar
Pale tussock moth caterpillar Calliteara pudibunda
45mm. On various broadleaved trees and shrubs, including birch and hops; colloquially known as ‘hop dog.’
Pale tussock moth caterpillars can be seen from late June to early October. Adults fly between July and August.
Why are caterpillars so varied?
Caterpillars can’t easily escape from predators because they’re slow-moving and haven’t grown wings yet. That means they either have to rely on camouflage so that predators don’t notice them (which gives us caterpillars that look like leaves, plant stems etc) or they’ve evolved to be bright and spikey so anything that might want to eat them knows that it would be a bad idea!