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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Caterpillars of Pacific Northwest
Forests and Woodlands


The common names of caterpillars often describe the appearance of the caterpillar or where it lives. The names then are clues to what the caterpillar looks like or where it might be collected. Names such as the linden looper, the alfalfa semilooper, the western spruce budworm, the green oak caterpillar, and the fall webworm are typical examples. Unlike the unique scientific name, one particular species may be honored with multiple common names and some common names may be used for more than one species. The common names used here were found in Essig (1929), Ives and Wong (1988), Hinchliff (1994), and Wagner et al. (1995), and from the list of common names that has been officially adopted by the Entomological Society of America (Stoetzel 1989).

The scientific name of all organisms is based in Latin or Greek and consists of at least two parts and often a third. Also, the last name of the author who described the species is sometimes included (not so here). The first name indicates the genus and is always capitalized. The second name, which is not capitalized, along with the first name represents the species. Some species have a third name that indicates a subspecies. Subspecies status is applied to distinct populations that are geographically separated. Individuals of different subspecies within a species could interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Individuals of different species do not naturally interbreed or would not produce fertile offspring.

No two animals are allowed to have the same scientific name. A species will possess a list of invalid scientific names due to a history of taxonomic revisions and a variety of expert opinions as to the identity of the species across its range. Often species with distinct color forms will have many invalid names because the various forms were initially thought to be distinct species.

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