Saltmarsh caterpillar

By Alicia Alexander, IPM Intern

Saltmarsh caterpillar. Photo credit: Alicia Alexander.

 The saltmarsh caterpillar is the larva of Estigmene acrea. Saltmarsh caterpillars are densely hairy and can be a variety of colors. When young, these caterpillars appear more yellowish. As the caterpillar ages they darken and can be anywhere from orange in color to black. Indistinct striping can be seen along the caterpillar. Pupation occurs hidden in leaf debris on the soil. The cocoon from the saltmarsh caterpillar is formed from the interwoven body hairs and is a thin cocoon. The Acrea moth emerges in about 2 weeks.

 Despite the name, saltmarsh caterpillars can show up in many different habitats other than saltmarshes. They eat a wide variety of plants and are found all across the United States. In some places, like southwest United States, these caterpillars can damage crops. Saltmarsh caterpillars skeletonize the plants they feed on, leaving only the main leaf veins. Older caterpillars eat large holes in the leaves and become more solitary. They can go great distances in search for food and can sometimes travel in large numbers.

 Saltmarsh caterpillars do not bite and are not poisonous.

Saltmarsh caterpillar adult male. Photo credit: Patrick Porter. 

Saltmarsh caterpillar adult male. Photo credit: Patrick Porter.