• Laboratoire des sols
  • Université de lorraine

Lepidoptera larvae (butterfly caterpillars)


It is true that butterfly caterpillars do not always walk on the surface of the ground since they move from one leaf to another to feed on them,
but it is not uncommon to find some of their representatives in a trap pot


Classification (systematic position)
Source : INPN


Animal Kingdom
Embranchement (Phylum) : Arthropoda
Subphylum: Pancrustacea
Class: Hexapod
Subclass: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera



Morphological characteristics
Insect larvae whose body is divided into 3 parts comprising 13 segments (head, thorax: 3 segments, abdomen: 10 segments), the thorax has 3 pairs of legs (one per segment) and the first 4 segments of the abdomen has 4 pairs of prolegs (soft and non-jointed), chewing mouthparts.


Life cycle
The life of a moth is divided into four phases: first the female butterflies lay eggs which will hatch and see the birth of a caterpillar (larva) which will moult a certain number of times before ceasing to feed and finding a place to metamorphose into a chrysalis (nymph). This chrysalis will give birth after transformation to the butterfly or the imago (adult). Butterflies generally live for a short time (a few days depending on the species) but some species can migrate and live for several years.


The majority of caterpillars are phytophagous, most of which are phyllophagous, that is to say that they feed mainly on leaves. Some species of caterpillars are specialized in feeding only on one plant species (monophages), others on a group of species (oligophages) or can also be polyphagous (many different plants). Caterpillars found on the soil surface can also feed on dead organic matter.


Natural predators or regulators
Both caterpillars and adult butterflies have many predators: birds, bats, spiders, dragonflies, rodents, lizards as well as wasps and Diptera.


Butterfly caterpillars live in all types of environments depending on the species. The diversity of butterflies in the garden is a reflection of the quality of the environment.


Interests in the garden
The caterpillars attract predators, especially birds, which are very fond of them.


Did you know ?
Caterpillars and butterflies have many means of defense against predators and practice mimicry (imitation of the colors of the support, for example).

Some caterpillars have developed stinging hairs or a nocturnal life cycle to avoid predators as much as possible.

Last change : 03/04/22
chenille photo 520 700
Figure 1