Butterflies, beautifully colored or simply inconspicuously colored, many of them are native to Germany. Determining them is not particularly difficult. However, correctly recognizing the associated butterfly caterpillars is more likely.

Characteristics of all butterfly caterpillars

The larvae of butterflies and some other insects are called caterpillars. They usually live hidden on a wide variety of plants that serve them as food. During their caterpillar period, they only have the task of constantly taking in food. Her body volume has increased drastically in a very short time. For this reason, all caterpillar species have to shed their skin several times during their development. Their colors can be used to identify them. However, younger larvae often have a different color than older animals. However, all butterfly caterpillars possess various characteristics such as

  • Division into head, trunk and abdomen
  • Hull consisting of 14 segments
  • Body cylindrical
  • Fuselage segments lined up without gaps
  • Chest composed of first three segments
  • remaining 11 segments are abdomen
  • a pore-like opening (stigma) on each side of the abdomen
  • Stigma provides oxygen for respiration
  • Chitinous nuchal shield present on the back of the first thoracic segment
  • six point eyes (stemmata) per side of the head
  • six sternums behind the head
  • eight short abdominal legs
  • two legs on the abdomen (pusher)
  • fourth and fifth segment legless
  • pronounced powerful mouthparts
  • Antenna vestigial, stumpy
Note: Butterfly caterpillars are able to change their body colour. This allows them to adapt to their environment. On the other hand, with certain colors they give their predators a warning that they are not palatable.

Identify caterpillar species

Some caterpillars native to Germany are presented below. This makes it easier to determine. The caterpillars of known moths are arranged alphabetically.

From A to C

Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

  • Size: 40mm
  • Appearance: Color variable, yellowish-grey, brown, black-brown, black, cream-colored spots on flanks, varying in size
  • Habitat: Forests, pastures, fields, gardens, roadsides, parks
  • Food: mainly nettle and other nettle species such as small nettle
  • Caterpillar season: May to August/September, one generation

Aurorafalter (Anthocharis cardamines)

  • Size: 30mm
  • Appearance: Blue-green upper body, white sides, dark green underside
  • Habitat: lean and moist meadows, roadsides, sparse forests
  • Food: Meadowfoam, Night Violet, Garlic Mustet, Annual Silver Leaf, Cruciferous Family
  • Caterpillar season: June to July, one generation
Tip: As a rule, the caterpillars of the Aurora Butterfly sit on the plants with their backs down. As a result, these butterfly caterpillars are easy to identify and at the same time can camouflage themselves excellently.

Blue Oak Hairstreak (Favonius quercus)

  • Size: 15 to 18mm
  • Appearance: reddish brown to ocher brown, darker back line, short, diagonal stripes, short hair
  • Habitat: Deciduous and mixed forests, especially near oaks, forest edges
  • Food: Blossoms and leaves of a wide variety of oak species
  • Caterpillar season: March to late May/early June, one generation

Brauner Bär (Arctia caja)

  • Size: 60mm
  • Appearance: Black, white warts, black-brown hair on the back, red-brown hair on the sides and front, gray tips
  • Habitat: Gardens, parks, fallow land, roadsides, clearings, moist forests, roadsides 
  • Food: herbs, sorrel, meadowsweet , shrubs, nettles
  • Caterpillar season: August to October, one generation
  • Special feature: the caterpillars overwinter on the ground, pupate in the following year in June to July
Note: In the event of imminent danger, these butterfly caterpillars play dead. The brown bear is native to Germany, but is classified as endangered on the Red List.

C-Falter (Polygonia c-album)

  • Size: 30mm
  • Appearance: orange-brown, white back, black markings, front part yellow/black markings, last two thirds of body white, black head with two thorns, body with white hair and thorns, sides orange-brown pattern, young caterpillars black
  • Habitat: Gardens, forest edges, parks
  • Food: willow, common hops, nettles
  • Caterpillar season: May to August, two generations

From D to G

Distelfalter (Vanessa cardui)

  • Size: 40mm
  • Appearance: light yellow to greenish brown, dark pattern of stripes and spots, easily recognizable individual segments, each segment with a ring and branched thorns, base of thorns red, back coloring between thorns yellow
  • Habitat: dry grassland, parks, gardens, places with a lot of thistle growth
  • Food: Nettle, cruciferous family, daisy family , plantain, mallow
  • Caterpillar season: June to September, two generations

Celastrina agriolus

  • Size: 14 to 17mm
  • Appearance: Pale green, back and sides with pink vertical stripes
  • Habitat: Forest and roadsides, humid to semi-arid forests, clearings, gardens, parks
  • Food: Alder buckthorn, currant and blackberry leaves, apple and pear trees, buckthorn
  • Caterpillar season: July to August, two generations
Note: The buckthorn blue and its caterpillars are also known as the common blue. As a cultural follower, it can often be found in gardens.

Big fox (Nymphalis polychloros)

  • Size: 45mm
  • Appearance: Dark gray to black, orange band on the back and flanks, branched and orange spines all over the body
  • Habitat: Forest edges, light forests, dry grassland with bushes, orchards
  • Food: Leaves of willow and other deciduous tree species such as aspen, apple tree
  • Caterpillar season: April to June, one generation

Large Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae)

  • Size: 45mm
  • Appearance: young caterpillars: yellowish-black, brown head, hairless, older caterpillars: black head, rows of yellow-black spots, hairy
  • Habitat: ruderal areas, cultivated land, meadows
  • Food: meadowfoam, buddleia , thistles, cabbages, cruciferous plants
  • Caterpillar season: June to October, two to three generations
  • Special feature: absorption of sulfur compounds from fodder plants, use for chemical defense against enemies
Tip: The caterpillars of the cabbage white eat in larger groups. This quirk can be used to identify the butterfly caterpillar.

Big oxeye (Maniola jurtina)

  • Size: 25mm
  • Appearance: light green, light longitudinal line on both sides, hairy body, long white hair, tips curved
  • Habitat: Gardens, parks, meadows, forest edges, clearings
  • Food: Sweet grasses such as brome, sheep’s fescue, meadow grass
  • Caterpillar period: one generation, from September and active from late winter after hibernation, pupation in May

Greater Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja)

  • Size: 38mm
  • Appearance: black, rows of orange-red spots, long branching black thorns, young caterpillars have white markings
  • Habitat: forests, moors, meadows
  • Food: violet species
  • Caterpillar season: one generation, from late summer, eat eggshell and hibernate, active again in March/April of the following year until pupation

From K to L

Kaisermantel (Argynnis paphia)

  • Size: 38mm
  • Appearance: Dark brown, brown-orange spines, two thin yellow dorsal lines, black pair of spines behind head pointing forward
  • Habitat: forests, clearings, meadows
  • Food: violet species
  • Caterpillar time: one generation, late summer, butterfly caterpillars hide in autumn, active again the following year from March to April/May until pupation

Lesser kingfisher (Limenitis camilla)

  • Size: 27mm
  • Appearance: green, white line on both sides of body, head dark brown with spines, body with branched brown spines of different lengths
  • Habitat: Alluvial forests, humid forests, mountainous areas
  • Food: leaves of wild plants, red honeysuckle
  • Caterpillar period: one generation, from August to autumn, then hibernation, active again from spring to early June

Small Meadow Bird (Coenonympha pamphilus)

  • Size: 18mm
  • Appearance: completely light green, back with a dark longitudinal line, flanks lightly lined with a white longitudinal line, two small lobes at the end of the abdomen, pink and directed backwards
  • Habitat: Meadows, pastures, ruderal areas, gravel pits, roadsides
  • Food: Kentucky bluegrass, sedge
  • Caterpillar season: April/May to September, two to three generations, hibernates as a caterpillar

Landkärtchen (Araschnia levana)

  • Size: 25mm
  • Appearance: black, each body segment with branched spines, white spots, yellowish-white lines on flanks and back, abdominal legs yellowish-brown, remaining legs black
  • Habitat: forests, forest edges
  • Food: Large nettle
  • Caterpillar season: May to September, two generations, hibernates as a pupa
Note: From the second caterpillar stage, these butterfly caterpillars have a pair of thorns on their heads.

From S to Z

Checkerboard (Melanargia galathea)

  • Size: 28mm
  • Appearance: green, yellowish-brown or grey-brown, light-brown head, dark longitudinal line on back and on both sides, short hair, two lobes at the end of the abdomen, colored red on top
  • Habitat: meadows, pastures, forest clearings, roadsides
  • Food: Grasses such as orchard grass, bluegrass, timothy grass
  • Caterpillar period: one generation, from September and after hibernation as a caterpillar again active until June until pupation

Schwalbenschwanz (Papilio machaon)

  • Size: 45mm
  • Appearance: young: black with red spots and white saddle patch, older: green or yellowish-white with black transverse stripes and yellow-orange-red spots
  • Habitat: lean meadows, gardens
  • Food: wild carrot, umbelliferae, burnet saxifrage
  • Caterpillar season: April to October, two to three generations

Tagpfauenauge (Aglais io)

  • Size: 42mm
  • Appearance: black, white dots except on head, black spines, older caterpillars have reddish-brown spots and legs
  • Habitat: light forests, gardens, parks, residential areas
  • Food: exclusively stinging nettle
  • Caterpillar season: late May to late summer, two generations

Trauermantel (Nymphalis antiopa)

  • Size: 50 to 55mm
  • Appearance: black, white dots, orange-red spots on back, body with long black spines and white hairs
  • Habitat: deciduous forests, avenues, orchards
  • Food: birches, mainly silver birches , willow species, elms
  • Caterpillar season: June to July, one generation

Zitronenfalter (Gonepteryx rhamni)

  • Size: 33mm
  • Appearance: dull green, back more intensely coloured, white longitudinal stripe on both sides above the legs, fading upwards
  • Habitat: Forests, grassy and bushy areas
  • Food: buckthorn plants, buckthorn
  • Caterpillar season: May to June, one generation

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