Ellen observed this large caterpillar crawling along the sidewalk at the edge of her house. She writes, “It looked entirely black until I viewed it from the side to see its colorful “starbursts” of bumps and hairs.”

Salt Marsh Caterpillars are not always easy to identify, and vary widely in color—from blond to brown to black. And, don’t let the name fool you, these balls of fuzz are found in any open habitat throughout North America, except for Alaska and the Yukon. Their name reflects their frequency in coastal salt marshes (tidal marshes) along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts. Part of the tiger moth family and related to the more familiar Woolly Bear, the caterpillars feed on a wide variety of plants, and are often seen rapidly wandering around on the ground in search of new food sources. Adults are quite elegant with their white forewings and black spots.

Size: Larvae grow to about 5 cm in length; wingspan of adults 32-52 mm

Photos by: Ellen Knight on 9/12/21 Missoula, MT