Definition of caterpillar in US English:

caterpillar

noun

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

    • ‘For example, some moth caterpillars overwinter on exposed ridges.’
    • ‘Continue to check for cabbage-white butterfly caterpillars and remove, bag and bin any affected leaves.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Remember when you saw an earthworm poke itself out of the ground and the caterpillar eating your mother's parsley.’
    • ‘A Black-throated Green Warbler dropped into view, a tiny green caterpillar grasped in the vise of his slender bill.’
    • ‘Before the adult butterfly emerges from its caterpillar, it must crawl out of its skin about five times before changing into a pupa.’
    • ‘About two to three weeks after the female butterfly lays her eggs on a plant, the larval caterpillars drop to the ground.’
    • ‘He says that the caterpillars are ermine moths, which weave silk tents over bird cherry and other fruit trees.’
    • ‘The caterpillars of the gypsy moth are destructive defoliators that feed primarily on oak trees causing growth loss, crown dieback, and tree mortality.’
    • ‘The children compared one state of growth to another as the larvae became caterpillars, then butterflies.’
    • ‘In the animal world look how a caterpillar passes into a form of sleep and a little later a butterfly is formed.’
    • ‘Mark's passion for peculiar pets started when he collected caterpillars, beetles and scorpions as a child.’
    • ‘The ants are duped by chemicals into accepting, nurturing, and protecting the butterfly caterpillar as one of their own.’
    • ‘These pests are almost certainly the caterpillars of the codling moth.’
    • ‘Many familiar animals have a larval form: caterpillars turn into butterflies, and tadpoles into frogs.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Beds of nettles are slashed to the ground when the caterpillars of red admiral and other butterflies are hatching for next year's generation.’
    • ‘How can I tell when diamondback moth caterpillars are damaging my cabbage?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Flying to several sites to deposit eggs is a strategy used by all moths and butterflies whose caterpillars must hide from predators.’
    1. 1.1 (in general use) any insect larva resembling the larvae of butterflies and moths, especially the sawfly.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘In a related study Clay and his colleagues will examine how the cicadas influence the ecological relationship between insect-eating birds and caterpillars.’
      • ‘For much of the year, most birds feed primarily on insects - everything from caterpillars to mosquitoes, aphids, and mites.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Some caterpillars will crawl to the ground and burrow into a hole, giving the parasitoids a safe refuge for the winter.’
  • 2trademark An articulated steel band passing around the wheels of a vehicle for travel on rough ground.

    • ‘The ship arrived at Immingham on August 24 from the Middle East, carrying a load of caterpillar tracks.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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’.’
    1. 2.1 A 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.’

Origin

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, which resembles a hairy caterpillar.

Pronunciation

caterpillar

/ˈkadə(r)ˌpilər//ˈkædə(r)ˌpɪlər/