Do Woolly Bear Caterpillars Turn Into Butterflies?

Woolly bear caterpillars (also known as Isabella tiger moths) are hairy and resemble bears, hence their name. It’s not uncommon to see them crawling around your yard this time of year.

These furry little creatures are actually the larvae of several different types of moths, including the Isabella moth and the Cecropia moth. The question everyone wants to know about woolly bear caterpillars is: do they turn into butterflies? Woolly bear caterpillars Turn into moths and not butterflies.

What is the Woolly Bear Life Cycle?

A woolly bear goes through four stages in its life cycle, similar to the butterfly. It starts out as an egg, hatches into a larva that we call a woolly bear because of the white hair on its body, and then pupates into a chrysalis before becoming an adult. The adult moth lays eggs of its own and continues the life cycle.

The woolly bear caterpillar’s black band changes color depending on how long it has been alive: The longer it lives, the darker it gets.

The woolly bear caterpillar’s black band changes color depending on how long it has been alive: The longer it lives, the darker it gets.

The orange band on either side of the black is where the caterpillar stores fat for when it hibernates

What Is a Woolly Bear Caterpillar?

The woolly bear, or Isabella tiger moth caterpillar, is a common sight to many people in colder climates, such as Minnesota and New England. These furry creatures are easily identifiable by their numerous black-and-white bands.

Woolly bears belong to the genus Pyrrharctia. Depending on their stage of development, they can be called either caterpillars or larvae. They are technically referred to as Isabella tiger moth caterpillars because that’s what they will turn into when they reach adulthood.

Why Do Woolly Bear Caterpillars Turn Brown?

It’s commonly believed that the color change reflects a milder winter ahead. If caterpillars are mostly brown, it means they think winter will be mild, which would mean that their host plants (usually oak trees) will have some leaves on them come springtime. A full brown caterpillar means a longer winter and not much time to mature into a butterfly.

The species of woolly bear caterpillar that we see in North America is Pyrrharctia isabella, or the Isabella tiger moth. They live in northern parts of the Americas and can be found from Argentina to Canada. There are many subspecies of this woolly bear, and they can be found in any color combination imaginable — including bands of white, black, yellow, and blue. Only the Isabella tiger moth is considered the “woolly bear” because of its distinctive red-brown coloring.

It is also believed that the color change is not caused by temperature or environmental changes at all; it’s just a sign that the caterpillar is growing and getting ready for its next stage of life.

How Long Does A Woolly Bear Caterpillar Take To Become A Moth?

Because woolly bear caterpillars go through multiple molts before turning into a butterfly, it’s hard to estimate how long it takes for them to transform from one form to another. It typically takes around seven weeks for a woolly bear caterpillar to become an adult butterfly after first hatching from its egg.

However, individual woolly bears can take as little as five weeks or as long as 10 weeks, depending on whether they were born in early spring or late summer, respectively. On average, it’s likely that seven-week-old woolly bears are already in their final larval stage before going into their cocoon.


While woolly bear caterpillars may look like butterflies, they cannot turn into butterflies. This question is a common misconception with these unique and beautiful caterpillars, but if you check them out, you’ll see that they only turn into Moths.

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