Brown with tan belly, yellow markings (Yellow-striped armyworm)

by Mrs. Cameron
(Concord NH)

Our caterpillar was found outside cold and not moving by our kindergarten children on our child care center playground in New Hampshire. He is approximately 1.5 inches long; mostly brown with a tan underside and yellow markings towards his end and sides.

We're curious what type of caterpillar he is; how to best care for him for the winter (temperature, food, habitat); and if he'll become a butterfly or moth.

Comments for Brown with tan belly, yellow markings (Yellow-striped armyworm)

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Yellow-striped armyworm
by: Moni

Mrs. Cameron
It is challenging to id many of the various cutworms or armyworms as they are variable in color and look similar. Your caterpillar is probably the yellow-striped armyworm. It turns into a moth.
It is found in eastern states of the US to KS, southeastern Canada, and across the southern US states.

These caterpillars feed on many herbaceous plants, including alfalfa, asparagus, bean, beet, cabbage, clover, corn, cotton, cucumber, grape, grass, jimsonweed, morning glory, onion, pea, peach, peanut, pokeweed, sweet potato, tobacco, tomato, turnip, wheat, watermelon, and wild onion. It is a garden pest.

Adult emergence begins in early April and continues into May. Egg masses placed on foliage, trees, or buildings. Eggs hatch in about 6 days, and larvae feed for 3 weeks. Sixth instar larvae burrow into soil to pupate. Moths emerge in two weeks. Entire life cycle takes 4-6 weeks.
There can be 3-4 generations per year...more in southern states.

You and your students can try to rear the caterpillar. Since you found it so late in the season, I assume it is close to pupating if it has not done so since you sent in the photo. Rearing caterpillars is a challenge. Mother Nature does it best.
And just so you know ahead of time, when you find a caterpillar in the 'wild', sometimes they have been parasitized....meaning another insect like a fly or wasp has laid eggs inside the caterpillar. So when you try to rear it, it dies from the eggs inside it - not something you did or did not is not something you can predict.
This caterpillar overwinters in pupa you will not see the moth until next spring. If your caterpillar is brown then it is about to pupate.

With all that said, the basics of rearing any insect is to feed it what it wants to eat...fresh food continually (never sprayed with insecticides). Then, when the caterpillar stops eating...they will typically go searching for a place to pupate.
You might want to find a large jar or old fashion fish bowl to raise your caterpillar. The container needs to be kept someplace where the temperatures are much like outside. Keep the container covered with a thin cloth or tight screen so no other insects or animals can get in to bother it.

Since you are in the north, where the ground freezes in winter, you will need to protect the pupa from freezing. Some folks put them in the refrigerator then put a drop of water on the cloth once a month thru the winter until the trees start to put out foliage (about April or early May). That is when you would bring the pupa container outside to let it be exposed to the normal weather and let it emerge like it might if it was in Nature. When you put the container outside... in a very protected area like a porch...put a stick in the container for the moth to climb up on.
This is a brief description and may not be enough for rearing but gives you an idea.
Please do more internet research about rearing caterpillars.

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