Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Significant differences in larval behavior, morphology, and coloration may occur between successive instars. Young gypsy moth larvae remain in the canopy both day and night. Beginning in the fourth instar, the caterpillars descend to the boles of trees by day and move back into the canopy at night to feed. Yet even this seemingly stereotyped behavior is modified under high densities, so that late instar larvae may remain in the canopy foliage and feed both night and day. Some dagger moths undergo striking color changes. The cherry dagger is green and red with a reddish head capsule in the fourth instar, but then molts into a stunning black and scarlet caterpillar in its last larval instar. Early instars of spicebush swallowtail, mottled with black and white, closely resemble a bird dropping. Radical changes accompany the molt to the fourth instar when the species takes on a snakelike appearance. Unlike the early instars that lay exposed on leaves, these older larvae use silk to fashion a leaf shelter in which they rest. In general, we have tried to illustrate common color forms of late instar larvae.