Is a Caterpillar an Insect?

This is not a question that I ever remember thinking about. A caterpillar in my life was just a caterpillar. I never thought it needed to be put in a group of any kind except its own. I want to share a little story with you that will explain why I had to answer this question.

A hairy caterpillar on a leaf
A hairy caterpillar on a leaf

At school my son’s class was studying insects. He came home and told me he had to catch live insects and take them to school in a jar. Not long after this I walked into the garden and saw a caterpillar munching happily on some mint. I broke off the piece of mint and put the caterpillar and the mint in a jar and presented it to him. He studied it carefully and then came the question: “Is a caterpillar an insect? It doesn’t have 6 legs.”

It took quite a bit of explaining to get him to understand that his teacher would accept it for their insect study.

A caterpillar is the larval form of a butterfly or a moth. When butterflies and moths lay eggs, the eggs hatch as caterpillars. Another way to think of this is that a caterpillar is a baby butterfly or a baby moth. We know that butterflies and moths are insects, but does this mean that the caterpillars are also insects?

A family of strange caterpillars
A family of strange caterpillars

After doing a little bit of research I found that they are considered insects. The interesting thing is that most caterpillars use only six legs to move themselves along. The extra legs are only used for balance and for holding on. If you look at the picture of the caterpillars on the left you will see that they only have 6 legs.

The short answer to the question is: Yes, a caterpillar is an insect. I also have an article about where butterflies live if you want more information.

There are some other creatures that have a different form when they hatch. A good example of this is a frog that begins its life as a tadpole. It doesn’t look anything like a frog, but it does become one. The world of wild creatures is really full of interesting things.

What creature do you know about that starts its life as something that looks very different from what it will become?

16 thoughts on “Is a Caterpillar an Insect?

    1. Post author

      Hi Astrid, thanks for visiting.
      I think it is wonderful how children make us think a little deeper about things that we take for granted. I hope they enjoyed the story.

      Reply
  1. I always loved caterpillars used to sit in front of one all day when I was little hoping to see it hatch it never happened that way, but they were very interesting to me, thanks for the info.

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Hi Dora, thanks for visiting.
      They really are interesting creatures. We have one pupa in a jar that we are hoping will become a butterfly or moth sometime soon.

      Reply
  2. What an interesting blog you have here! Great choice of theme for this subject as well. I love the image of the caterpillars all curled up along the leaf – is that how they typically eat? It’s like they’re sychronized eaters!

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Holly.
      I am guessing the caterpillar group are still young and hatched out of a batch of eggs nearby. I am sure that they will go their separate ways to be able to get enough food without it being a feeding competition. Who ever thought that insects were so interesting?

      Reply
    1. Post author

      Hi Nicole, thanks for visiting.
      The anticipation of spring is a great time, so full of promise and opportunity. I hope you see some interesting creatures in your area.

      Reply
    1. Post author

      Hi Michael, thanks for visiting my site.
      It is definitely interesting to see how many of us have never really thought about a caterpillar being an insect. I think it will create some interesting discussions at a party.

      Reply
  3. James W D

    So did the teacher accept the caterpillar as an insect? I have found that often I am teaching the teachers anymore with things I need to send into school or when I have to help my kids with their homework.

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Hi James, thanks for reading.
      Yes, the teacher did accept the caterpillar for the insect study. To everyone’s delight the little critter transformed itself into a pupa after about 2 weeks of almost finishing my supply of mint.

      Reply
    1. Post author

      Thanks for stopping by McKing.
      Yes, the cicada is also a rather interesting insect and the nymph does not look much like the adult. I think I will have to post some information on it in the future.

      Reply

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