Definition of caterpillar in English:



  • 1The larva of a butterfly or moth, having a segmented wormlike body with three pairs of true legs and several pairs of leglike appendages. Caterpillars may be hairy, have warning coloration, or be colored to resemble their surroundings.

    • ‘The caterpillars of the gypsy moth are destructive defoliators that feed primarily on oak trees causing growth loss, crown dieback, and tree mortality.’
    • ‘Many familiar animals have a larval form: caterpillars turn into butterflies, and tadpoles into frogs.’
    • ‘About two to three weeks after the female butterfly lays her eggs on a plant, the larval caterpillars drop to the ground.’
    • ‘For example, some moth caterpillars overwinter on exposed ridges.’
    • ‘The children compared one state of growth to another as the larvae became caterpillars, then butterflies.’
    • ‘These pests are almost certainly the caterpillars of the codling moth.’
    • ‘How can I tell when diamondback moth caterpillars are damaging my cabbage?’
    • ‘Mark's passion for peculiar pets started when he collected caterpillars, beetles and scorpions as a child.’
    • ‘Before the adult butterfly emerges from its caterpillar, it must crawl out of its skin about five times before changing into a pupa.’
    • ‘The larvae of the painted lady butterfly - the thistle caterpillar - have been drawing a large amount of attention from anyone who has observed Canada thistle patches this spring.’
    • ‘Beds of nettles are slashed to the ground when the caterpillars of red admiral and other butterflies are hatching for next year's generation.’
    • ‘Flying to several sites to deposit eggs is a strategy used by all moths and butterflies whose caterpillars must hide from predators.’
    • ‘Continue to check for cabbage-white butterfly caterpillars and remove, bag and bin any affected leaves.’
    • ‘In the animal world look how a caterpillar passes into a form of sleep and a little later a butterfly is formed.’
    • ‘The ants are duped by chemicals into accepting, nurturing, and protecting the butterfly caterpillar as one of their own.’
    • ‘We found that these pads, if placed too close to prickly pears infected by Cactoblastis, would soon be discovered by the moths and eaten by caterpillars.’
    • ‘Remember when you saw an earthworm poke itself out of the ground and the caterpillar eating your mother's parsley.’
    • ‘He says that the caterpillars are ermine moths, which weave silk tents over bird cherry and other fruit trees.’
    • ‘Yet Crawley cautions that the crops his team examined had been engineered to resist herbicides, moth and butterfly caterpillars, and perhaps those qualities didn't matter much in the wild.’
    • ‘A Black-throated Green Warbler dropped into view, a tiny green caterpillar grasped in the vise of his slender bill.’
    1. 1.1(in general use) any insect larva resembling the larvae of butterflies and moths, especially the sawfly.
      • ‘A caterpillar is the larva of a butterfly or moth (or, loosely, of various other insects) A grub is the larva of a beetle, but this term too is used loosely.’
      • ‘Not only are their food plants uprooted and poisoned to make way for crops and homes; the caterpillars are also victims of insecticides intended for crop-eating caterpillars.’
      • ‘In a related study Clay and his colleagues will examine how the cicadas influence the ecological relationship between insect-eating birds and caterpillars.’
      • ‘The wasp is skilled in killing its prey which include all types of insects, spiders, flies, caterpillars even the large blue bottle which it dewings, strips it of its legs and then carries the trunk back to the nest.’
      • ‘A host of other insects visit backyard orchards - various caterpillars, pear slugs, and leafhoppers to name a few.’
      • ‘Children collect termite, snails, and the caterpillars of several insects.’
      • ‘Some caterpillars will crawl to the ground and burrow into a hole, giving the parasitoids a safe refuge for the winter.’
      • ‘When we talk about pests in the garden, we generally mean things like aphids, caterpillars and rabbits that we can see and deal with appropriately.’
      • ‘There are more caterpillars and other insects, which are important foods for several types of birds living in the forest understory, in thinned stands that encourage more hardwood shrubs.’
      • ‘For much of the year, most birds feed primarily on insects - everything from caterpillars to mosquitoes, aphids, and mites.’
  • 2trademark An articulated steel band passing around the wheels of a vehicle for travel on rough ground.

    • ‘He developed caterpillar tracks that replaced wheels on combine harvesters.’
    • ‘The vehicle, on caterpillar tracks, came through the field at Pepperhill near the Channel Tunnel rail link.’
    • ‘The first ‘tank’ to have any form of caterpillar track was a vehicle designed by Lieutenant W Wilson and William Tritton called ‘Little Willie’.’
    • ‘This is a yellow JCB vehicle on two large caterpillar tracks with a cab that can rotate all the way around, and a big scoop on an articulated arm at the front.’
    • ‘The ship arrived at Immingham on August 24 from the Middle East, carrying a load of caterpillar tracks.’
    1. 2.1A vehicle with caterpillar tracks.
      • ‘A cohort of caterpillars bands together to travel in a long column, looking to all the world like the dangerous body of a single, large snake.’
      • ‘Mr Hall said: ‘He was knocked to the ground and the caterpillar wheels went over him and completely mashed his leg.’’
      • ‘Inside is rosewood luxury, downstairs bunks and beds, and under them, two six hundred horsepower caterpillars capable of pushing them across the sea at thirty-five knots.’


Late Middle English: perhaps from a variant of Old French chatepelose, literally hairy cat influenced by obsolete piller ravager. The association with “cat” is found in other languages, e.g., Swiss German Teufelskatz (literally devil's cat), Lombard gatta (literally cat). Compare with French chaton, English catkin, resembling hairy caterpillars.