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Entomology (Study of Bugs)/smaller dark brown inchworm


I saw something that looked sort of like a dark brown inchworm around midday today in central North Carolina. However, where most of the inchworms I'm seeing are the usual size (maybe 1-1.5 inches?), and in the green-to-tan range, this one was tiny, and, as I say, dark brown. I remember that it was maybe twice the width of a hair, and maybe half an inch long? Its body seemed slimmer than a normal inchworm's, compared to its length. It had the same looping motion as an inchworm, and, as far as I could tell, had the same leg/proleg set-up as the inchworms I've seen. So my question is, did I find a baby inchworm (and if so, do you know why it was such a dark brown?), or did I find some related species?

I believe I found it on either parsley or cilantro, in the shade, if that helps you out.


The answer is "yes, possibly" to all of the above questions.

First, there are more than 1,400 species of "inchworms" alone in North America in the family Geometridae.  There are also "looper" caterpillars in the owlet moth family Noctuidae, probably accounting for at least another 1,000 species.

Second, not only are there small species of inchworm moths that may reach a maximum larval size at under one inch, but there is great individual variation from specimen to specimen in terms of color.  Many species even change color and pattern during their maturation, to blend in with different plant parts.  Some inchworms mimic tendrils of vines, for example.

Lastly, our association of caterpillars with adult moths is really only in its infancy.  No larval stage is known for many moth species and scientists are now doing trial-and-error experiments to find out what moth a given caterpillar will turn into, and what kind of plant it needs to eat to reach the adult stage.

Bottom line is that I cannot possibly give you a definite answer, especially without at least a clear image of the creature in question.  I would recommend Dave Wagner's book on Caterpillars of Eastern North America, in the Princeton field guide series, as a great way to identify some of the more common caterpillars here in the U.S.


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Eric R. Eaton


I answer insect and spider identification questions ONLY. Attach images if possible. No "what bit me?", "what do I feed this bug in captivity?", or science fair project questions please. NO TECHNICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT INSECT PHYSIOLOGY.


Principal author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Professional entomologist employed previously at University of Massachusetts, Chase Studio, Inc., and Cincinnati Zoo; contract work for West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Smithsonian Institution, and Portland (Oregon) State University.

Author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Missouri Conservationist magazine, Ranger Rick, Birds & Blooms, Timeline (journal of the Ohio Historical Society). I have contributed to several books as well.

Oregon State University, undergraduate major in entomology, did not receive degree.

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One of the top 50 experts in all categories for, 2009.

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Principal author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Smithsonian Institution (contract), Cincinnati Zoo (employer), Portland State University (contract), Chase Studio, Inc (employer), Arkansas Museum of Discovery (guest speaker). Currently seeking speaking engagements, leadership roles at nature festivals, workshops, and ecotours.

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