15 Caterpillars Found in Hawaii (6 Are Poisonous)

Written by Sam Hindman
Published: August 20, 2023
Share on:


The picturesque landscape of Hawaii is home to a diverse array of plants, animals, and insects alike. Nature, at its core, is always changing. What is more beautiful, then, than an insect that undergoes an incredible transformation into something entirely new? Caterpillars are unique and intriguing creatures, and there are hundreds of species of caterpillars in Hawaii. That said, some are more notorious than others. In this article, we’ll be breaking down fifteen of the caterpillars found in Hawaii, including their appearance, habits, and places of residence.

Areas That Caterpillars in Hawaii Enjoy

Sunrise from Hanauma Bay on Oahu, Hawaii

Caterpillars are more likely to thrive in areas that have higher rainfall, such as Oahu in Hawaii.

©Shane Myers Photography/Shutterstock.com

Only The Top 1% Can Ace our Animal Quizzes

Think You Can?

There is no hard and fast way to discern exactly which regions in Hawaii hold the highest concentrations of caterpillars. As it stands, the best way to decipher where higher caterpillar populations may reside is by understanding the environmental conditions that allow these creatures to prosper. When you understand the kind of setting these insects thrive in, it then becomes a mere process of elimination in figuring out where these places may be.

In order for there to be caterpillars, there must be some form of vegetation. So, you’ll only be finding caterpillars in areas with a sufficient amount of rainfall. Hawaii’s windward sides, like the eastern side of the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai receive more rainfall on average than other parts of the state. That means that subsequently, they’re able to support higher populations of caterpillars.

A sometimes overlooked factor in the caterpillar population is their proximity to human life. There are some very gentrified and tourist-heavy areas in the state of Hawaii, and the impact of human interference usually results in less wildlife. Predation is a big factor, too. There are some invasive species in Hawaii that, in large concentrations, greatly disrupt the life cycle of this state’s native caterpillars.

1. American Lady Caterpillar

Vanessa virginiensis, American painted lady or American lady

In warm areas, the American Lady Caterpillar can be found year-round.


The American Lady Caterpillar, which transforms into the American Lady Butterfly, is found year-round in its warm habitats. A larva that tends to live alone, you can find these caterpillars being produced most commonly on host plants within the sunflower family. In terms of its appearance, this caterpillar has a series of long black spikes that extend from its body. Due to these spikes, it is advisable not to handle this kind of caterpillar if you spot one on your travels.

2. Blinded Sphynx Moth Caterpillar

Don’t let names fool you, because the Blinded Sphinx Moth Caterpillar can absolutely see.

©christine123 / CC BY 4.0 – License

Despite the name of the Blinded Sphinx Moth Caterpillar, this insect can actually see quite well for something that lacks pupils. These caterpillars are quite popular, both for their name and impressive appearance in adulthood. You can find them chowing down on poplar, willow, cherry, or birch wood when they get peckish. They are found across the United States, as well as in some parts of Europe and Mexico. In terms of appearance, these caterpillars in Hawaii are often green, plump, and covered in small white specks.

3. Cabbage Looper

Cabbage looper on kale leaf

Though they seem cute at a glance, the Cabbage Looper can be quite a menace for those who the grow plants they consume.


The Cabbage Looper grows into the Cabbage Looper Moth, and it eats a lot more than just that! These guys can be seen as a bit of a pest for gardeners and farmers alike, as they can get quite hungry for such little guys. Their tiny, green bodies can hold a lot more food than one would imagine, too, with a diet consisting of not only cabbage but also kale, lettuce, beets, asparagus, and broccoli.

4. Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

The Cecropia moth caterpillar feeding, and showing distinctive warning coloration on a plant in a Wisconsin butterfly exhibit. The caterpillar's body is full of bristles.

The Cecropia moth caterpillar might have scary-looking red spots, but those actually don’t do anything harmful to people who touch them.

©K Hanley CHDPhoto/Shutterstock.com

If you were to run into a Cecropia moth caterpillar, it would certainly be an encounter that you remember. Its unique appearance is a bit startling to some, but quite beautiful to others. Interestingly enough, the caterpillar’s menacing red lumps are not actually poisonous. What is, though, is the chemicals that the Cecropia moth caterpillar secretes when it feels threatened. So if you see one, it’s best to steer clear of its path and let it continue about on its merry way, likely on the hunt for some delicious honeysuckle.

5. Genista Broom Moth Caterpillar

genista broom moth

The Genista Broom Moth Caterpillar is a member of the Crambidae family.

©Andres Soriano/ via Getty Images

If you spot a Genista Broom Moth Caterpillar, it’s probably on its way to feast on some legumes or laurel. These teeny insects have a unique color scheme of orange, white, and black, complete with an array of spots and tiny black bristles. This caterpillar is harmless- that is unless you try to eat it! This species of caterpillar likes to store the alkaloids from their host plants, making them both foul-tasting and even toxic to any predators that may try to take a curious bite.

6. Oleander Hawk Moth Caterpillar

an Daphnis Nerii

The Oleander Hawk Moth Caterpillar is only found in Hawaii.

©DenBoma/ via Getty Images

This caterpillar is pretty hardcore, which makes sense, considering that it’s native to Hawaii. The Oleander Hawk Moth Caterpillar is named this because of its interesting appetite. It enjoys consuming the oleander plant, one that is otherwise quite poisonous. It is also one of the larger caterpillars in Hawaii, measuring up to sometimes be as long as six inches. Sometimes, this is also referred to as the Army Green Moth Caterpillar.

7. Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

caterpillar on flowering milkweed


Monarch Butterfly

Caterpillar has a strong appetite for milkweed.

©Cathy Keifer/Shutterstock.com

There are few caterpillars as notorious and recognizable as the Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar. This milkweed-devouring creature has a signature pattern of yellow, black, and white strips down the length of its body. Unlike some of the other caterpillars on this list, who have a diet that varies across several different plant populations, these insects exclusively live off of a milkweed diet, relying completely on this plant in order to survive.

8. Red Admiral Butterfly Caterpillar

Red admiral caterpillar sits on edge bright green leaf.

The black spikes of a Red Admiral Caterpillar are daunting at first glance, but actually completely safe.

©Przemyslaw Muszynski/Shutterstock.com

The Red Admiral Caterpillar is one that has a slew of interesting habits. One of these habits is its knack for folding together leaves and then securing them that way through the use of their silk. Their preferred diet consists of a mix of nettle, hemp, and hackberry, and they are a relatively common caterpillar species. This kind of caterpillar is certainly deceiving, as its black spikes give off an aura of great danger despite being completely safe to touch and handle.

9. Slug Caterpillar

close shot of the green-crowned slug moth caterpillar

Because of the interesting shape of the slug caterpillar, it is sometimes confused with the creature of its namesake.

©Young Swee Ming/Shutterstock.com

It is pretty clear how the Slug Caterpillar got its name, as its appearance speaks a thousand words. Their shape is incredibly unique, being exceptionally rotund and almost completely flat. It’s no wonder that these creatures are often mistaken for slugs! These caterpillars are not particularly dangerous, however, their sharp hairs may get stuck in your skin and irritate it to a degree similar to that of a bee sting.

10. Polythemus Moth Caterpillar

A young Polyphemus caterpillar (Antheraea polyphemus) on the back of an Oak leaf. This one is in an early instar stage and has a lot of growing to do before becoming a beautiful moth.

The pattern of a Polythemus Moth Caterpillar is comparable to that of an accordion.

©Brett Hondow/Shutterstock.com

The Polythemus Moth Caterpillar is one that has a very exceptional transformation, as its moth form is gorgeous and intricate, while its caterpillar form is a bit on the awkward side. The caterpillar is green, incredibly thick, and pudgy, and has a skin pattern that could be described as almost accordion-like. With a diet consisting of mostly different types of wood, this caterpillar is not harmful to humans in any capacity aside from the slight risk of skin irritation.

11. Spiny Elm Caterpillar

Mourning Cloak Caterpillar (Nymphalis antiopa)

The Spiny Elm Caterpillar is sometimes referred to as a Mourning Cloak.

©JasonOndreicka/ via Getty Images

When it comes to caterpillar’s looks being deceitful, the Spiny Elm Caterpillar is not among those. This caterpillar is just as dangerous as its massive black spikes make it appear to be. Those venomous spikes have the likelihood of getting caught and stuck into your skin, after which they will cause severe and intense burning. Be careful not to accidentally pick up one of these caterpillars, and instead wait to admire them in their far less frightening butterfly form.

12. Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Scarlet tiger moth caterpillar

Although the


Moth Caterpillar is quite cute, it’s important not to touch or handle them unless you want a burn from their venomous hairs.

©iStock.com/Ian Lycett-King

The Tiger Moth Caterpillar is the young form of the well-known and admired Tiger Moth. While these moths have a reputation for beauty, what most people don’t know is just how poisonous the caterpillar form of these moths can be! They have venomous hairs that sting and cause rash-like burns on the humans that handle them, so if you spot one outside, it’s best to steer clear. With a vast diet encompassing a number of plants, they are built to live in a variety of regions.

13. Thistle Moth Caterpillar

Caterpillar of a thistle moth on a thistle, near Amman, Jordan

The spines of the Thistle Caterpillar can greatly resemble the host plant it most loves.


The Thistle Caterpillar grows up to become a gorgeous Painted Lady Butterfly, a species known to be quite beautiful. This caterpillar gets its name due to its diet, which is primarily of the thistle plant, but also encompasses other plants such as nettle, hollyhock, mallow, and burdock. Its name could also be attributed to its spines, which almost resemble a thistle. These caterpillars, however, are of the safe-to-handle variety.

14. Unicorn Caterpillar

Unicorn Caterpillar moth feeding on a cherry tree leaf

The Unicorn Caterpillar is named after the long horn that sprouts from the back of its head.

©Sari ONeal/Shutterstock.com

It is hard to miss a Unicorn Caterpillar when encountering it, despite their ability to camouflage into their surroundings. These aptly named caterpillars sprout a singular long horn from the back of their heads, and will often try to mimic surrounding leaves. Be cautious, though, because the Unicorn Caterpillar is part of a family of caterpillars that spray a chemical irritant called Formic Acid when distressed.

15. Yellow-necked Caterpillar

Yellow-necked Caterpillar

The Yellow-necked Caterpillar has a diverse diet of apple, birch, witch hazel, basswood, and more.

©BrianLasenby/ via Getty Images

The color pattern of the Yellow-necked Caterpillar consists of yellow and red stripes, with a black body and several wispy white hairs. This caterpillar in Hawaii gets its name from the ring of yellow resembling a collar around its neck. This caterpillar has a diverse diet of many types of plants and is very harmless for humans to handle.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © BrianLasenby/ via Getty Images

Share on:
About the Author

Sam Hindman is a writer at A-Z animals covering a range of topics, including pet care, plant care, pest control and travel destinations. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Multimedia Studies at Point Park University, set to graduate in the spring of 2024. A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when she isn't writing, she's spending time with her beloved cat Archie.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.