In Home Garden Tips

Butterfly, Caterpillar and Cocoon Identification

group of colorful cocoons for caterpillar and cocoon identification

Caterpillar and cocoon identification help you determine if the bugs you’re looking at are helpful or harmful. These easy steps will help you get the hang of cocoon identification in no time.

Fast, Easy Caterpillar and Cocoon Identification

You don’t need to be a master naturalist or an entomologist to learn caterpillar and cocoon identification. Even if you don’t know a worm from a caterpillar or a moth from a butterfly, these steps will help you identify caterpillars and cocoons so you know if it’s helpful or harmful to the garden.

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group of colorful cocoons for caterpillar and cocoon identification

Four Simple Steps for Caterpillar and Cocoon Identification

Step 1: Take a clear picture.

No matter how you proceed with your investigation, you’ll need a clear picture of the insect in question to help with the identification. Descriptions alone aren’t enough because everyone identifies colors and other attributes differently. A picture, in this case, is definitely worth more than a thousand words!

Step 2: Upload the image to a reverse image search site.

A reverse image search site is a great tool to identify cocoons, insects, or bugs you don’t recognize. Google Image Search is a free tool offered by the search engine company Google. It allows you to upload your own picture, then search online for ones that match it. How does this help with butterfly, caterpillar, and cocoon identification?

Let’s say you’ve taken this picture but you don’t know what it is:

swallowtail butterfly caterpillar


Using a reverse image search such as Google Image search offers many suggested matches. Once you have suggested matches, you can proceed to the next step.

Step 3: Read through and find ideas based on where you live.

Butterflies live in specific regions of the world. Some live in very specific geographic areas, like mountains or deserts, tropical climates or temperate climates. The butterflies you see in New York may be different from the ones you see in Florida or Texas. It’s important to match the picture and search engine results to where you live.

So read through the closest and best matches. If the source identifies your cocoon or caterpillar as one that lives in your part of the world, chances are good it is a match.

Step 4: Consult a professional

Let’s assume you’ve walked through Steps 1-3 and still aren’t sure what you’re looking at – that can happen to anyone. Consult a professional. Resources you can try include:

Examples of  Caterpillar and Cocoon Identification

picture of a tomato hornworm

Tomato hornworm: good image for ID. (c) bjonesphoto

caterpillar and cocoon identification photo

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. Photo should be taken from the side.

swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

A slightly better photo for caterpillar and cocoon identification.

woolly bear caterpillar on gravel driveway

A great, clear image for caterpillar and cocoon identification.

saddleback caterpillar

Another clear image for identification. This is a saddleback caterpillar which has a wicked sting!


praying mantis egg case on winter twigs

A small bug clear image of a praying mantis egg case for easy cocoon identification.

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