Black, branching spikes growing out of red-orange dots stick out of the top and sides of the American Lady caterpillar. Picking it up is not advised because of them. Two white dots share each segment with the spiky growths. There are a few color variations that are possible. Some caterpillars have black bands that alternate with a bunch of thin, white or yellow bands. Others are orange or brown with yellow bands.
Eggs for this species are yellow-green, rounded barrels, and are very tiny. They are laid by females on the top of host plant leaves, sometimes in a small cluster and sometimes spaced apart. This larva tends to live alone. A popular group of host plants is in the sunflower family and are called everlastings. They are tall and skinny plants with narrow leaves. Other plants such as pussytoes with their velvety leaves, and wormwood's bitter leaves are also food sources. The caterpillar uses its silk to create a nest of out leaves, usually at the top of the plant. This serves as both a shelter and restaurant, where it nibbles away at the leaves caught inside. During the day, the caterpillar remains hidden inside, and it comes out on cloudy days and at night for more feeding.
The American Lady is the adult form of this caterpillar, a popular and colorful butterfly. Generally, three to four broods can be produced in a year, but this butterfly is present year round in the warmest parts of its range such as the Deep South, Texas, and Mexico.
The map above showcases (in blue) the states and territories of North America where the American Lady Caterpillar may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data can be useful in seeing concentrations of a particular species over the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some species are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America.*NOTE: States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the American Lady Caterpillar. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.