This is the caterpillar stage of the beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail — the big beautiful yellow butterflies with black stripes that we often see through our yards. It’s also Virginia’s state butterfly.
These caterpillars are green in the beginning but just before they get ready to pupate and turn into the chrysalis stage, they turn brown like this.
This little buddy hitched a ride on the sock of one of our nature camp kids as they were walking along a trail at Banshee Reeks.
Notice the two horns on the head. These are not always visible but when the caterpillar feels threatened it will rise up like it’s is doing here and put out these horns. It makes the caterpillar look FIERCE! and sends out an awful scent, all in hopes of deterring the potential threat (which most likely wants to have a nice juicy caterpillar breakfast).
So – next time you see a caterpillar like this, don’t be afraid! It’s just an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar getting ready for its butterfly debut.