37 Caterpillars With Spikes (Pictures and Identification)

Some of the most intriguing caterpillars have spikes. The role of these spikes is diverse. Some argue it’s just decoration while research suggests it’s more than that.

Caterpillars have spikes through their life stages or in a given brief period.

They often rely on spikes as one of their few defense mechanisms in front of predators. Most caterpillars with spikes grow in length or change colors through their life stages.

Some caterpillars even have spikes from their first few days or they only grow them at later life stages known as instars.

Why do Some Caterpillars Have Spikes?

Some caterpillars have spiked as they want to appear dangerous to predators.

While these spikes can be fleshy, they might be soft and bend when touched.

Some types of predators such as birds avoid these caterpillars due to their spikes. It’s not rare for caterpillars to have spikes in different colors for a contrasting appearance.

A few types of rare caterpillars also have venomous spikes which they use directly on predators as a passive self-defense method.


Caterpillars with setae connected to venom glands rely on this trait to become untasteful and even cause an allergic reaction in predators.

While rare, these species absorb toxins from their host plants and store them in their bodies often releasing them through a liquid when the spines are broken upon contact with a predator.

These broken spines that penetrate the skin of humans can also cause urticaria in humans.

Some of the most severe cases of urticaria caused by caterpillars come with high levels of pain, swollen skin, or red skin.

These symptoms can sometimes last up to a few days.

A warning sign to predators

Most caterpillars have spikes in a different color than their bodies. A good percentage of North American caterpillars have black spikes.

These spikes have no venom and do not direct harmful impact on predators.

Instead, they act as potential warning signs to predators.

They can grow all over the body in dorsal and lateral areas.

Some caterpillars only grow long spikes behind their head to appear horned and dangerous.

However, they cannot use these spikes to pierce predators as they are often unable to move quickly in front of wasps, birds, and other predators.

Are Spiky Caterpillars Dangerous?

Saddleback Caterpillars and Stinging Rose Caterpillars are among the few dangerous types of caterpillars in North America.

The venom of these species cannot kill humans or animals but it may cause severe skin-level reactions when touched.

The reactions to the venom of these species depend on each individual.

Some people show no adverse reactions more severe than tingling when touching these caterpillars.

Other people report high levels of pain associated with touching the spikes on these 2 species of caterpillars in North America.

Touching and handling these caterpillars isn’t recommended as they have venom glands which may still cause urticaria in a large number of people.

Washing the hands or the skin that has been in contact with the spikes of these caterpillars is one of the best practices in case of contact.

Most other types of caterpillars with spikes can be handled without adverse reactions.

Some people even hand-pick caterpillars of flowers and trees in the garden to stop them from eating away the leaves of their host plants.

37 Common Caterpillars with Spikes

Here are some of the most common caterpillars with spikes found in North America and around the world.

1. Great Spangled Fritillary Caterpillar

Argynnis cybele
Great Spangled Fritillary Caterpillar

A body covered in spikes is specific to The Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele). These spines grow in length and change colors as the species grows.

The initial growth stages, known as instars, are characterized by a black base body color with orange and black spines.

The orange-brown section is specific to the lower parts of the spines.

Its pointy black spines also grow shorter hairs that resemble spines on the black upper sections.

The caterpillar feeds on various violets and eventually turns into a dark brown to black chrysalis before pupation.

Color of spikes – black, orange

2. Common Buckeye Caterpillar

Common Buckeye Caterpillar

A dark appearance and black spikes are specific to The Common Buckeye Caterpillar (Junonia coenia).

This is a species that grows a varying number of spines on each segment. Most body segments count anywhere between 5 and 7 spikes while a pair of spikes is also seen on the head of the species.

This caterpillar changes its coloring as it grows.

Its base color is black but brown stripes are also seen across in its early stages. The caterpillar can also appear almost completely black, with a few white bands or just a few white spots.

The head of the caterpillar tends to remain brown to black through its growth stages.

Color of spikes – black

3. American Lady Caterpillar

American Lady Caterpillar

American Lady Caterpillars (Vanessa virginiensis) are highly common based on their common plants which grow all over North America.

This species feeds on sunflowers which means it has a widespread distribution.

Its appearance is marked by contrasting colors and spikes.

A black body with golden grouped bands is specific to this species. The black bands or segments show white dots and black spikes.

This species can be seen in different US states with an uncertain distribution in cooler Northern states each year.

The migratory habits of the species may influence its presence up North more than in other locations.

Color of spikes – black

4. Red Admiral Caterpillar

Red Admiral Caterpillar

Black dominates the appearance of The Red Admiral Caterpillar (Vanessa atalanta). Its body is all-black and covered in spines in the early growth stages.

The caterpillar brightens as it grows but not to a large extent. It eventually settles into a dark brown appearance with tiny white dots.

Its spines remain black throughout its growth stages. However, the spines of The Red Admiral Caterpillar are smaller compared to those of other species such as The Great Spangled Fritillary Caterpillar.

The white dots on the body of this caterpillar are also seen on most types of early instar black Red Admiral Caterpillars.

Color of spikes – black

5. Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar

A spiky appearance is specific to The Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar (Dione vanillae). This is a type of caterpillar that has dark orange and gray bands along its body.

Its spines have a contrasting black appearance. Covered in black spines, this caterpillar aims to keep predators away with its appearance.

Its black spines may cover its body but they have a soft texture without risk to human skin when touched.

These spikes also grow smaller spines each as the caterpillar approaches its maximum size.

These small spines are also soft, even if they are pointy as opposed to the large spikes they grow on which aren’t as pointy.

Color of spikes – black

6. White Peacock Caterpillar

Anartia jatrophae
White Peacock Caterpillar

Multiple types of hosts influence the spiky appearance of The White Peacock Caterpillar (Anartia jatrophae).

This is a species that grows on petunias or wildflowers such as Herb-of-grace. Known for its spiky appearance, this caterpillar also has a dark body.

Initially black, the caterpillar has segments with multiple black spines.

It grows and starts to show brown and white stripes and dots along its body as well as at the base of its spines.

These spines aren’t dangerous to humans as the caterpillar isn’t known to cause allergic reactions.

Color of spikes – black, orange, and black

7. Zebra Longwing Caterpillar

Zebra Longwing Caterpillar

The number and the length of the spikes on Zebra Longwing Caterpillars (Heliconius charithonia) vary by their growth stage.

As a white caterpillar with brown ventral coloring, this species shows a few shorter black spines on its dorsum in its initial growth stages.

The number of spines grows with the caterpillar, as does their length. The number of 2 spines is mainly specific to each segment.

Arranged in 2 rows, these black spines point outwards. The left row points to the left while the spines on the right point to the right.

This species feeds on purple passionflower.

Color of spikes – black

8. California Tortoiseshell Caterpillar

Nymphalis californica
California Tortoiseshell Caterpillar

A Western US distribution is specific to The California Tortoiseshell Caterpillar (Nymphalis californica).

This is a species that only feeds on wild lilac and which shows a multicolored body that resembles the colored appearance of the emerged adult.

A black and brown body is specific to this species. Its brown or orange-brown sections have the same color as its spines.

However, the spikes of this caterpillar have dual colors. They only have black tips while the base is brown.

Some of the best places to spot the species include California’s chaparral.

Color of spikes – black and brown

9. Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar

Pipevines in the Eastern and Southern US territories are the host to the Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar (Battus philenor).

This is one of the species with considerable changes in the color of its spikes.

The first instars of the species are marked by a bright appearance. This is also the time when the tubercles are orange.

Most of its tubercles eventually become long dark red spines.

Some tubercles on its mid-dorsal area remain short and orange. It’s only those at the sides of the body that become long.

Color of spikes – orange, red

10. Malachite Caterpillar

Siproeta stelenes
Malachite Caterpillar

A highly similar appearance is noted between The Malachite Caterpillar (Siproeta stelenes) and the pipevine swallowtail caterpillar.

This species has a black body with long orange and brown spikes. Black color is mostly specific to the tips of its thin spines.

Spikes on this caterpillar change as it grows. They might remain mall and orange or they can turn into spikes that are only orange at the base and black at the tips.

This type of caterpillar has very thin black spikes, which means the tips of its spikes are hardly visible.

Color of spikes – black, orange

11. West Coast Lady Caterpillar

Vanessa annabella
West Coast Lady Caterpillar

A bright appearance is specific to The West Coast Lady Caterpillar (Vanessa annabella). This species has spiked in the same color as its body in its early days.

The West Coast Lady Caterpillar is then known for darkening as it grows.

It shows black and yellow contrasting coloring with black spikes and a few yellow spines along its sides.

The combination of black and yellow spikes is believed to keep predators away, as does its black and yellow body.

Yellow is a color often associated with poison by its common predators

Color of spikes – black, yellow

12. Variable Checkerspot Caterpillar

Euphydryas chalcedona
Variable Checkerspot Caterpillar

A mostly black body dominates the appearance of The Variable Checkerspot Caterpillar (Euphydryas chalcedona).

This makes its black spikes a bit more difficult to spot.

The variable Checkerspot Caterpillar also shows a central brown section bordered by white margins.

As it grows, it may also show white or gray bands while its brown dorsal sections get smaller, more similar to dots.

The body of the Variable Checkerspot Caterpillar always remains covered in black spikes.

Color of spikes – black, orange-brown

13. Eastern Comma Caterpillar

Polygonia comma
Eastern Comma Caterpillar

Various species of birch are the main host of The Eastern Common Caterpillar (Polygonia comma).

This is a species that has a base black color with a body covered in black spikes.

Initially green, The Eastern Common Caterpillar then turns black.

It also shows yellow lateral bands as well as yellow spikes as it grows.

A contrasting combination of black and yellow spines on the dorsum and the sides of the caterpillar is specific to this species.

Some variants of this species also show brown or red-brown ventral coloring with red-brown spikes close to its head.

Color of spikes – black, yellow

14. Mourning Cloak Caterpillar

Mourning Cloak Caterpillar

Native to North America, Europe, and Asia, Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) are distinct types of butterflies by their looks.

The caterpillars of the species aren’t so distinct from other similar species, especially from other caterpillars with spikes.

With a dark appearance, these caterpillars grow on willow, American elm, and other types of trees.

They have a black base color with tiny white spots and large brown spots on the mid-dorsum.

Black spikes cover the body of the species.

Its prolegs have the same brown color as its brown mid-dorsal spots.

These caterpillars first live in large groups before moving out on their own as they need more food.

Color of spikes – black

15. Question Mark Caterpillar

Polygonia interrogationis
Question Mark Caterpillar

Broadleaf trees such as The American elm and hickory are among the main hosts of The Question Mark Caterpillar (Polygonia interrogationis).

This is one of the species known for its numerous spikes and changing colors as it grows.

The caterpillar has spiked from its early days. It has black and red-brown color in its initial stages to eventually become mostly black with white spots along the body.

The same orange-brown spikes are visible on the species even in the later growth stages.

Going through color changes, this caterpillar eventually shows a black-and-white body with yellow spikes.

Some of its spikes are located on its dorsum while others are located on its sides.

Color of spikes – yellows, orange-brown

16. Gray Comma Caterpillar

Polygonia progne
Gray Comma Caterpillar. Image by bienchen via inaturalist

Gooseberries and azaleas along the roads are the typical hosts of The Gray Comma Caterpillar (Polygonia progne).

This spiky species has an initial dark red or red-brown color with short black spikes.

Its colors and patterns change, together with its spikes. A brown and yellow body with bands is specific to the caterpillar in its later growth stages.

This is a species with yellow, dark brown, and black spikes in its later growth stages.

Its last instar is a period marked by mostly yellow spikes and extra orange-brown or brown dorsal coloring.

Color of spikes – black, yellow, brown

17. Mylitta Crescent Caterpillar

Phyciodes mylitta
Mylitta Crescent Caterpillar

A widespread species of Western North America, Mylitta Crescent Caterpillars (Phyciodes mylitta) are highly common at various elevations.

This is a species that moves around for food in areas with thistles. It may settle in an area without predators and sufficient thistles such as Milk thistle.

A dark brown and gray appearance is specific to this caterpillar. The species

even show black spikes across its body, mostly grouped on each body segment.

The same brown-gray color of the caterpillar is later seen on the body of the emerged Mylitta Crescent butterfly.

Color of spikes – black

18. Silvery Checkerspot Caterpillar

Silvery Checkerspot Caterpillar

A similar species to the Mylitta Crescent, The Silvery Checkerspot Caterpillar (Chlosyne nycteis) has an initial all-black appearance in its first instar.

It also has black spikes from its early days to its later instar.

It then shows lateral yellow stripes along its body. These stripes eventually darken to a bright brown color as the species grows.

The Silvery Checkerspot Caterpillar slowly turns into a black and brown species covered in black spikes. A similar species to the Mylitta Crescent, The Silvery Checkerspot Caterpillar has an initial all-black appearance in its first instar.

It also has black spikes from its early days to its later instar.

It then shows lateral yellow stripes along its body. These stripes eventually darken to a bright brown color as the species grows.

The Silvery Checkerspot Caterpillar slowly turns into a black and brown species covered in black spikes.

Some rare types of Silvery Checkerspot Caterpillar remain black and yellow, without their yellow sections turning brown throughout their life stages.

Color of spikes – black

19. California Sister Caterpillar

Adelpha californica
California Sister Caterpillar

Oak trees can sometimes suffer in the case of caterpillar invasions as their broad leaves are seen as ideal food by many species.

This is also the case of The California Sister Caterpillar (Adelpha californica).

This type of caterpillar has a bright yellow to white initial color with just a few spikes.

It slowly turns green with yellow spikes as it matures. The caterpillar settles on a bright green color with a yellow-white underside and 12 dark yellow spikes arranged in pairs along its dorsum.

Color of spikes – yellow

20. Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar

Flax, passionflower, and plantain are just some of the numerous wildflower hosts of The Variegated Fritillary Caterpillar (Euptoieta claudia).

All of these wildflowers thrive in open areas. They also quickly spread on disturbed land.

This is a species that is dominated by a base brown color in its early days, only contrasted by a few short black spikes.

It eventually turns into a brown, black, and white caterpillar with numerous dorsal black spikes.

The black spikes cover both its dorsum and its lateral sides but remain short and thin compared to the spikes seen on other caterpillars.

Color of spikes – black

21. Mexican Fritillary Caterpillar

Euptoieta hegesia
Mexican Fritillary Caterpillar

Alders and passionflower are the main hosts of The Mexican Fritillary Caterpillar (Euptoieta hegesia).

This species is marked by a brown base color and spikes across its life stages.

As its name suggests, this species is prevalent in Mexico but it also has a growing presence in Texas.

It starts its life as a dark brown caterpillar with white lateral stripes and barely visible yellow-to-brown spikes.

It later turns to a more brown-red type of caterpillar with white stripes and visible black spikes.

The species has grouped pairs of spikes on the dorsum and rows of singular spikes laterally.

Color of spikes – black, yellow

22. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

The spikes on Cecropia Moth Caterpillars (Hyalophora cecropia) are short and colored but they undergo numerous changes as the species grows.

An all-black color with black spikes is specific to this caterpillar in its first instar.

It then changes colors completely to yellow with black spikes in the second growth stage.

The caterpillar then becomes green to finally become green-blue in its final instar.

The spikes on its final instar are colorful and short. They can be green, blue, or yellow. These spikes can also be covered in short black spikes themselves.

The fourth instar just before the final growth stage is the period in which this species shows the largest spikes or tubercles on its dorsum.

Color of spikes – yellow, blue, black, orange

23. Hickory Horned Devil

Hickory Horned Devil

Named after its tree host, The Hickory Horned Devil (Citheronia regalis) also grows to a final green-blue color.

Unlike Cecropia Moth Caterpillars, The Hickory Horned Devil is one of those species with grouped spikes around the head which make it look like a horned caterpillar.

The spikes on its dorsum are generally short. This species lacks long spikes on its body except for the long black spikes behind its head.

The first instar, a period when this caterpillar has a bright green color, is the time when the species has the fewest spikes.

Color of spikes – black, brown, orange

24. Honey Locust Moth Caterpillar

Honey Locust Moth Caterpillar

Different color spikes are seen on The Honey Locust Moth Caterpillar (Syssphinx bicolor), depending on its growth stages.

This is one of the species that has a base green color, even if the shade of green can vary as the species grows.

Its spikes are also green as its body on most parts of the body when it comes to its first instar.

At this time, only the long spikes behind its head are black.

Its spikes change color to a vivid red or pink-red as it grows. Most spikes remain short, however.

These spikes may be spotted as white spots start to cover the body of The Honey Locust Moth Caterpillar as it grows.

Color of spikes – black, green, red, pink, white

25. Pine-devil Moth Caterpillar

Citheronia sepulcralis
Pine-devil Moth Caterpillar

The Pine-devil Moth Caterpillar (Citheronia sepulcralis) is one of the rare species where the spikes have the same color as the body.

A different type of dark color is typically representative of this type of alpine caterpillar.

It can be a shade of brown or a shade of gray, or any other pattern that combines these colors.

Its body has a dark appearance while its spines are a continuation of its body in terms of colors.

The mid-dorsal spikes never grow, in favor of the longer spikes just behind its head.

One of the main benefits of its looks is that this species camouflages itself to look similar to pine branches.

Color of spikes – brown, gray

26. Io Moth Caterpillar

Io Moth Caterpillar

Continuous color changes are specific to the spikes of The Io Moth Caterpillar (Automeris io).

This is one of the species which shows considerable appearance changes as it grows.

Moths of this genus have a yellow-orange color in the first instar with similar spikes.

They turn brown in the second instar with similar color spikes which then become black spikes.

A brown body with yellow stripes and yellow spikes is then specific to the caterpillar.

The species turns completely yellow or completely brown with matching yellow or brown spikes before its final stage when it’s green with green spikes and lateral brown and white stripes.

Color of spikes – orange, brown, black, yellow, green

27. Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback Caterpillars (Acharia stimulea) are among the few truly dangerous species to humans when it comes to skin contact.

Its spikes are connected to venom glands but this doesn’t mean everybody has severe skin reactions when touching it.

Some of the severe reactions to this species include urticaria which lasts for days.

The brown spikes of the species may also lead to mild symptoms such as rashes and skin redness in most people accidentally touching the caterpillar.

Accidental touches are common when climbing its hosts such as oak trees or hackberry or when handling wildflowers such as flamingo flowers.

Color of spikes – brown, brown-black

28. Crimson Patch Caterpillar

Crimson Patch Caterpillar

Only common on acanthus hosts in Texas and Mexico, this type of caterpillar (Chlosyne janais) shows atypical coloring and a rare look.

It has a white color with green undertones and black spikes in its last growth stages.

Its spikes are grouped and look like black bands when spotted from the distance.

Yellow-brown coloring is specific to its ventral side and its prolegs while its head is normally brown.

Color of spikes – black

29. Theona Checkerspot Caterpillar

Chlosyne theona
Theona Checkerspot Caterpillar

A multicolored species, this type of caterpillar (Chlosyne theona) is native to The United States, Mexico, and numerous states in South America.

The brown base color is specific to the caterpillar in its early days, contrasted by black spikes.

It grows to a light brown body color, has a dark brown head, and numerous rows of long black spikes in its later growth stages.

Intermediate growth stages even show a brown and white bright body with contrasting black spikes. Its bright appearance is only specific to a couple of instars before turning dark again.

Color of spikes – black

30. Stinging Rose Caterpillar

Stinging Rose Caterpillar

One of the rare types of venomous caterpillars to humans is the multicolored Stinging Rose Caterpillar (Parasa indetermina).

This species always has bright coloring, varying from shades of green to yellow and brown.

Its spikes are thick, covered in shorter colored spines which enter the skin and break away when touched.

Filled with venom as they are connected to venom glands, these broken smaller spikes lead to skin-level reactions in humans.

The result is urticaria and high levels of pain. The pain from its sting can last hours in some cases and days in other cases.

It’s believed the Stinging Rose Caterpillar has one of the worst stings of all caterpillars with spikes in North America.

Color of spikes – yellow, green, orange

31. Nevada Buck Moth Caterpillar

Hemileuca nevadensis
Nevada Buck Moth Caterpillar

Cottonwood, willow, and other trees in North American woodlands are the typical hosts of The Nevada Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca nevadensis).

This is one of the rare black and yellow caterpillars on the continent. Its body is covered in black and yellow stripes and short black spines.

Its spikes are grouped but never reach a length similar to the long spines on other caterpillars.

Only its red prolegs offer a colorful contrast on its black and yellow body.

Most of its life is spent eating the soft parts of the leaves of its host trees. This species stops feeding once emerged as an adult moth.

Color of spikes – black

32. Calleta Silkmoth Caterpillar

Calleta Silkmoth Caterpillar

Purple sage, ocotillo, and other types of wildflowers living in arid regions of Texas, New Mexico, and California are the main hosts of The Calleta Slikmoth Caterpillar (Eupackardia calleta).

This is a species changing its green base color nuances as it grows. Its body is covered in spikes of different colors.

The individual spikes of the species are multicolored being brighter at the base and always black at the tip.

The spikes of the species can be green and black in its intermediary growth stages or orange, white, and black in its later growth stages.

Color of spikes – green, white, orange, blue, black

33. Columbia Silk Moth Caterpillar

Hyalophora columbia
Columbia Silk Moth Caterpillar

Eastern larch and bird cherry are just a couple of hosts for this atypical type of caterpillar (Hyalophora columbia).

Its atypical look is given by the different colors of its spikes. These spikes are black and green, or black and yellow and are always grouped by their color combination.

The left dorsal side of the caterpillar can show all-yellow spikes while its right side can show blue and black spikes.

The initial growth stages of the species are when the Colombia Silk Moth Caterpillars are all-green, including their spikes.

Color of spikes – yellow, black, green,

34. Spun Glass Slug Moth Caterpillar

Spun Glass Slug Moth Caterpillar

Various species of trees are hosts of this atypical caterpillar (Isochaetes beutenmuelleri).

Swamp oak is among its favorite species across Eastern US territories.

The Spun Glass Slug Moth Caterpillar has long green spines and a green body. An all-green caterpillar, this species can be difficult to spot when feeding on the leaves of its host tree.

While it has tens of spikes around its body, this species isn’t known to cause adverse skin-level reactions when touched.

Color of spikes – green

35. Hubbard’s Silk Moth Caterpillar

Hubbard’s Silk Moth Caterpillar

Southern and Southwestern territories up to California mark the native range of Hubbard’s Silk Moth Caterpillar (Syssphinx hubbardi).

This is a green species with multicolored spikes.

Its body is covered in white dots in the last instars, a trait also specific to its green spikes.

Still, this species also shows black spikes with yellow tips, shorter and wider white spikes with blue shades, and pink-red spikes with white tips.

Color of spikes – green, white, blue, pink, red, yellow, black

36. Texas Buck Moth Caterpillar

Hemileuca peigleri
Texas Buck Moth Caterpillar

Various species of oak in Southern Texas are the hosts of The Texas Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca peigleri).

Spikes cover the body of the species which is known for its dark appearance throughout its life stages.

The caterpillar has a base black color with brown patches and long black spikes.

The base color of its body can also be white for a brief period before it enters its final life stages.

Color of spikes – yellow, brown, black

37. Gray Buckeye Caterpillar

Junonia grisea
Gray Buckeye Caterpillar

The Gray Buckeye Caterpillar (Junonia grisea) has similar colors to the adults of the species.

Brown, gray, and black nuances dominate its appearance. Its multicolored body is also covered in black spikes.

The Gray Buckeye Caterpillar is a species with brown, white, and black dorsal stripes and lateral brown spots.

Its spikes are short, pointy, and black throughout its life stages.

Color of spikes – black