White Caterpillar: 6 Types and Identification

There are more than 20 types of white caterpillars, such as Hickory tussock moth caterpillar or Spotted apatelodes caterpillar. While it may be tough to differentiate one from the other, observing their specific patterns and markings can help you recognize the species.

How to Identify White Caterpillars

Luckily, white caterpillars often stand out compared to black caterpillars. They contrast the environment and are easy to spot on green leaves and dark ground.

If you want to know the exact species, check the caterpillar’s patterns, black hairs, patches, setae (fine tufts of hair), and protrusions. Compare what you see to images online to discover the correct species.

For instance, the caterpillars of Hickory tussock moth caterpillars or White-marked tussock moth caterpillars (Orgyia leucostigma) have white hairs with a black stripe of hairy tufts that aren’t common in other kinds.

Types of White Caterpillars

Some of the common white caterpillars you may stumble upon if you live in North America include:

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  • Yellow bear caterpillars (Woolly bears)
  • Hickory tussock moth caterpillar 
  • Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar 
  • American dagger moth caterpillar 
  • Fall webworm
  • Spotted apatelodes caterpillar 

1. Yellow Bear caterpillars (Woolly Bears)

Yellow Bear caterpillars (Woolly Bears)
Yellow Bear caterpillars (Woolly Bears)

The Yellow bear caterpillars (Woolly bears) are pale, almost white, changing as they go through instars. The caterpillar’s body is coated in stinging hair.

Its food plants include potatoes, pumpkins, cauliflower, carrots, and corn. Some of their other preferred host plants include hemp, sycamore, short grasses, and clover. This caterpillar feeds on these plants before it transitions to the next phase for overwintering (pupa, cocoon, or chrysalis stage).

These caterpillars are around in the early fall, just before they hibernate. They can also be seen during the warm late summer months. As one of the most prevalent caterpillars in their habitat, they live in the southwestern parts of the US.

2. Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

The White hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white with hairy clumps that create a black stripe on their backs. These caterpillars have long black pencil hairs on the sides and measure up to 1.8 inches.

This white caterpillar is classified as venomous. Its hairs fall off and may embed in your skin, causing allergic reactions and pain. The White hickory tussock moth caterpillar is common in:

  • Maine
  • New Brunswick
  • North Carolina
  • Wisconsin
  • Illinois

3. Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Sycamore Tussock Moth Caterpillar

The Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar (Halysidota harrisii) is a tiny yellowish-white caterpillar. It has two white pencil hairs and two pairs of orange pencil hairs on both ends of its body.

These caterpillars usually defoliate sycamore trees. They don’t sting, but touching them with bare hands can cause skin irritations. Its usual range includes southeastern Canada, the eastern parts of the US, and northeastern Mexico.

4. American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

American Dagger Moth Caterpillar
American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

The American dagger moth caterpillar (Acronicta americana) is a quite hairy yellow-white caterpillar with a few tufts of black hairs. It has a shiny black head with two green stripes on its back. This larva is not venomous, but its setae might cause skin irritation.

This caterpillar is native to Eastern North America, eats deciduous trees, and lives in woodlands.

5. Fall Webworm

Fall Webworm Web
Fall Webworm Web

Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea) lives in unique tent-like webs with other caterpillars of the same species. It has long white setae that grow from yellow tufts on a dark body. Depending on the climate, its head may be bright red or shiny black.

Fall webworm is a pest, and it defoliates ornamental shrubs and trees. Its range includes areas from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

6. Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar

Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar
Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar

The Spotted apatelodes (Apatelodes torrefacta) is one of the hairy caterpillars. The first instar is brilliant white and later turns creamy white or neon yellow. This caterpillar has black spines on its body and long gray-black spines on its head.

It doesn’t sting, and you may notice it on maple, ash, and oak trees. It lives in the following states:

  • Florida
  • Maine
  • Missouri
  • Ontario
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

Are White Caterpillars Poisonous?

In general, white caterpillars can cause allergic reactions. For instance, you can have swelling or itchy rashes if you touch them with bare hands. Their hairs break as a part of their defense mechanism, so you may also end up with fine hairs in your skin.

Additionally, breathing in the hairs they leave behind when they molt can give hives to some people.

For example, the most poisonous white caterpillar is the Flannel moth caterpillar. Their hairs are connected with poison sacks, and their sting feels like a bee’s sting.

How to Heal Skin Irritation Caused by White Caterpillars?

Caterpillar stings typically cause manageable reactions. They are usually less terrible than a wasp sting. Still, your skin may react with rash, and you might develop some skin disorders due to the venom. The issues may last a few hours to a few days, depending on your body’s ability to fight the poison. Here are a few techniques to ease off skin reactions:

  • Remove the hair if there is any.
  • Wash the area well using water and mild unscented soap.
  • Use water and baking soda paste to cover the affected area and reduce swelling and itching.
  • Take some oral antihistamines to further manage the pain and swelling.
  • Have the area checked by an entomologist and other professionals as soon as possible to ensure no complications.

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