We received the following email a little while ago: “it’s black with yellowish stripes and hairy. What is it?!” That is the entire message, and no picture was sent with the email. We presume our reader found some sort of creature that he wanted us to identify, and just decided to convey this desire in the most concise manner possible. Based on its description, it sounds like our reader found a caterpillar, so below we explore some caterpillars that are hairy and have black and yellow stripes.
As we have pointed out several times in the past, the number of caterpillar species is overwhelming. The Lepidoptera order, which contains moths and butterflies, is composed of around 180,000 known species, and thus there are around 180,000 known types of caterpillars in the world. (Caterpillars are just the larval form of moths and butterflies.) Thus, the odds of us being able to correctly identify whatever it is our reader found (assuming he is describing something he found) are quite low, even if the reader’s description of caterpillar narrows the range of possibilities considerably. Really, all we can do is look up some yellow and black hairy caterpillars and hope that we mention the correct species, which isn’t a very promising approach to identification.
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That said, one initial caterpillar that comes to mind is the yellownecked caterpillar (Datana ministra), which are relatively common caterpillars/moths in the North America. The American dagger moth caterpillar (Acronicta americana) is also a hairy yellow and black caterpillar that is found in North America, although it isn’t really striped. So, if our reader is in North American, these are possibilities, but of course we don’t know where he lives, which makes any possible identification even harder. A lot of caterpillars have a fairly limited distribution, so knowing the geographical location of our reader would be quite helpful.
Since we think there isn’t much chance that we will correctly identify what our reader found, we’ll stop ourselves here, but we would encourage our reader to search for caterpillars online on the basis of the physical characteristics he gave to us. This will generate innumerable images, and he can quickly scan through them to see if any match the creature that he found. The fact that our reader actually knows what the creature he found looks like is a major advantage. He might also try performing this search with his location listed (to varying degrees of specificity), and this might narrow the range of results to a more manageable level. We wish we could provide more definitive information to our reader, but unfortunately we don’t have enough information to work with.
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