Caterpillars Mistaken for Gypsy Moth Caterpillars

Several types of caterpillars are commonly mistaken for gypsy moth caterpillars. Use these checklists and images for identification.

Gypsy moth caterpillar characteristics

Gypsy moth caterpillars:

  • Are hairy
  • Have distinctive rows of paired red and blue tubercles (bumps) along their backs when fully grown
  • Are big – when fully grown, about the size of your little finger
  • Do not move like an "inchworm," with their middles rising up and their two ends coming close together
  • Hatch in early May and grow through the summer
  • Do not form tents of webbing in trees – or leave behind much webbing at all
  • Rarely feed on coniferous (evergreen) trees, except when in large populations and other food is scarce

Other caterpillars' traits

Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly

Some rare and endangered butterfly caterpillars resemble gypsy moth caterpillars. However, to preserve butterfly populations, butterfly caterpillars should not be disturbed. If you have found a caterpillar and are uncertain of its species, leave it be.

Taylor checkerspot butterfly caterpillars:

  • Are black and hairy
  • Have a single row of yellow dots on their backs
  • Feed on plants within Garry oak meadows, but not on the trees
  • Are currently found only in a few locations on Denman Island and Buckley Bay
Note the black tufts of hair on the Taylor's checkerspot caterpillar, and the single row of reddish-orange dots.

Silver-spotted Tiger Moth

Silver-spotted tiger moth caterpillars

  • Are large
  • Actively feed between the early spring and early June
  • Primarily feed on conifers (evergreens)
  • Do not have any spots
  • Have yellow hairs
  • Produce dense webs on trees
  • Often feed in groups
Note the yellowish tufts on the silver-spotted tiger moth caterpillars. Also, they do not have distinctive, coloured dots.

Tussock Moth

Tussock moth caterpillars

  • Are hairy, with pencil-like tufts on the head and tail and "tussocks", or bunches of hairs, on the back
  • Feed on Douglas-fir (Douglas-fir tussock moth) or both hardwood and evergreen trees (rusty tussock moth)
  • Produce webbing, but not tents, on the trees they feed on
Note the two long tufts on the Douglas-fir tussock moth caterpillar's head, and the long bundles of hair on the body.

Tent Caterpillar (Western and Northern)

Tent caterpillars:

  • Usually feed in large groups
  • Build large white tents of webbing
  • Feed on the leaves of trees like Garry oak and alder, and fruit trees and ornamental shrubs
  • Have short hairs on their bodies
  • Have blue, orange or red spots

Note the masses of tent caterpillars gathered on a tent of webbing. Note also the shorter hairs on the body, and the white and yellow markings on the back.

Winter Moth

Winter moth caterpillars:

  • Are hairless and green
  • Are found hiding within rolled leaves
  • Feed on large, leafy trees like maple, oak and alder, and on fruit trees and ornamental shrubs
  • Suspend themselves from a single strand of webbing
Note that the winter moth is green and hairless.