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***** Location: Japan, worldwide
***** Season: All Summer
***** Category: Animals


There are quite a few varieties of caterpillars on our earth.
In Japan too, we have our share of them. Basically they are divided into the hairy versions and the non-hairy ones.

hairy caterpillar, woolybear, wooly bears, kemushi 毛虫
woolybears creeping around, kemushi hau 毛虫這う(けむしはう)

CLICK for more photos !

kemushi can be used for any type of hairy caterpillar of any size. Woolybear refers to the tiger moth species (Arctiide).
Woolybears are also seen in autumn, when they walk along the roads. In that case, as kigo, you have to mention the season, they are "autumn woolybears".

Some of them have poison on their hairs that can lead to severe inflammation of the human skin.

Some multiply in great numbers and crawl along fields and trees, they can clear a whole chestnut tree over night, as I have seen them many times in our area. They come down our small road like an army of small tanks.
The local farmers call them "Mountain guys" (yama taroo 山太郎).
When they become too much of a plague, farmers light torches and burn them off (kemushi yaku 毛虫焼く).
What is left will be food for the crows, which descend in large numbers to feed on the hairy caterpillars.

pine caterpillar, matsu kemushi 松毛虫

ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

Another group are the loopers, which move by drawing the rear part of the body to the front part, forming a loop, and then moving the front part onwards.

looper, inchworm, shakutori 尺蠖
..... shakutorimushi 尺取虫 (measuring in shaku)
..... suntori mushi 寸取虫 (measuring in sun)
..... tsuetsuki mushi 杖突虫 (walking with a stick)
..... kusshin mushi 屈伸虫 (くっしんむし)(streching-arching-insect)
..... dobin wari 土壜割(どびんわり)
..... ogimushi 招虫(おぎむし)

CLICK for more photos !

The body movement looks like the animal is measuring the lenght of a SHAKU or a SUN to the Japanese.
(A shaku is about one foot or 30 cm, a sun is ten shaku, 3 cm.)

Measure converter for Shaku, Sun and Bu

The caterpillar also stands for transformation and rebirth, especially in a Buddhist context. It may become a moth, a butterfly or else ...

Gabi Greve


If it's a hairy caterpillar, say "hairy caterpillar" or "woolybear". This is what the Japanese call kemushi.

If it's a non-hairy caterpillar, and is green or brownish in color, say "looper" or "inch-worm" or some such. Japanese shakutori .

In my own reading, I automatically classify the word "caterpillar" by itself as the latter type unless context suggests otherwise, but I'm sure others may think first of a woolybear. Then, there are also horned caterpillars, tent caterpillars, and other types.

In some poems, for example one involving a bird eating a caterpillar, it may not make much difference which type is mentioned. But if the caterpillar is the main star, rather than a supporting actor, it might be a good idea to say which kind, within reason.

A "green caterpillar" may be enough in some haiku (suggesting either the caterpillar of a cabbage white or an inch-worm), while in others one might need to specify "gypsy moth caterpillar".

Bill Higginson


The woolly bear caterpillar — with its 13 distinct segments of black and reddish-brown — has the reputation of being able to forecast the coming winter weather.
source : www.almanac.com


There are many tens and thousands of types of caterpillars.

certainly, as poets, we can evoke a familiar moment in our fellow haijin by saying 'caterpillar'. and maybe, unless the precise species is needed to capture the moment, caterpillar is all we need say.

to rescue the woolybear
the bald man

summer solstice
under the tent caterpillars
autumn leaves

susan delphine delaney
plano texas


..................... Some Biology

Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Superclass Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Subclass Pterygota (Winged Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
No Taxon Moths

Other Common Names
larvae commonly called caterpillars (as are larvae of butterflies)
pupal case commonly called a cocoon (vs. chrysalis in butterflies)

about 13,000 described species in about 70 families in North America (plus many more undescribed species of mostly micromoths)
about 165,000 described species in the world

Larvae (caterpillars)
have a hardened head capsule and a fleshy body composed of a thorax bearing three pairs of legs, and an elongated cylindrical abdomen bearing from zero to five pairs of prolegs (short fleshy ventral projections used for clinging or walking). The body may be either uniformly colored or patterned with stripes, bands, or spots; the surface may be smooth, or may be sparsely or densely covered with short or long hairs, tufts of hair, spines, knobs, or other features.

depending on species, larvae may feed on all parts of herbaceous plants, roots/twigs/stems/leaves of trees and shrubs, fungi, lichens, dead or decaying plant material, stored food products, fabrics made of cotton or wool, or generally any organic material; many species are very host-specific, and can be identified by the plant they are feeding on; larvae of a few species are known to eat other caterpillars, and a few other species eat soft-bodied insects such as aphids

Read more and look at samples

Worldwide use


Spotted Tussock Moth (Lophocampa maculata)
The caterpillar of the Spotted Tussock Moth is often called the Yellow Woolly Bear.
Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar / PHOTO !
Royal Alberta Museum, Canada

Things found on the way

The Caterpillar Hunter

Photo by: John Serrao/Photo Researchers, Inc.

Caterpillar Hunter, common name for any of several closely related species of large, nocturnal, predatory beetles. Caterpillar hunters prey on caterpillars and earthworms. Some, such as the fiery searcher, are brilliantly colored. This species, which can grow up to 3.4 cm (1.3 in) long, is metallic blue and green. The European caterpillar hunter was imported into the United States in large numbers to combat the browntail moth.

Scientific classification:
Caterpillar hunters belong to the family Carabidae. The fiery searcher is classified as Calosoma scrutator, and the European caterpillar hunter as Calosoma sycophanta.




- - - - - Japanese still missing

Deep into autumn
and this caterpillar
still not a butterfly


aki o hete / chō mo nameru ya / kiku no tsuyu

MORE - poems about butterflies by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


ô kemushi ari no jigoku ni ochi ni keri

big caterpillar--
into the ants' hell
it has fallen

ôgiku no teppen ni neru kemushi kana

on the big mum's
peak, asleep...

Issa (Tr. David Lanoue)


mijikayo ya kemushi no ue ni tsuyu no tama

short night!
all over the wooly bear
are dew beads

Tr. Dennis Chibi - fb

. WKD : Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 and his "short night" poems .


In the girl's day light hand
the caterpillar is dreaming too
to become a butterfly

Vasile Moldovan

Look at more haiku and a photo


Caterpillars crawl
Caterpillars are hairy
Caterpillars die

Emily Millar


in the weeds
one hundred and one
striped caterpillars

paul conneally

Related words

kigo for all autumn

namushi 菜虫 (なむし) "leaf worm"
leaf-eating caterpiller
na no aomushi 菜の青虫 
namushi toru 菜虫とる picking leaf worms
This is the caterpillar stage of the cabbage butterfly (monchirochoo もんしろちょう 紋白蝶 .

kochoo ni mo narade aki furu namushi kana

Never becoming a butterfly
Into autumn lives
A caterpillar.

Tr. Nelson/Saito
Oku no Hosomichi - - - - Station 43 - Ogaki 大垣 - - -
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

Various translations:

still not a butterfly
as autumn deepens:
a rape-worm

trans. Barnhill

not yet a butterfly
even as autumn passes
the caterpillar

trans. Reichhold

Reichhold's comment:
Starting verse for a renga party at Jokoo's house in Oogaki.

not grown to a butterfly
this late in autumn
a caterpillar

trans. Ueda

Ueda's comment:
Written shortly after arrival in Oogaki on or around October 4.

A caterpillar,
this deep in fall--
still not a butterfly

trans. Hass

Barnhill translates namushi literally as 'rape-worm'; Ueda translates it as 'vegetable-worm'. Rehichhold translates it as 'caterpillar'
Compiled by Larry Bole


***** Butterfly

***** Crow, Raven

***** Moths



Gabi Greve said...

winzige Raupen
fressen am Pfirsichbäumchen
das ich mir aufzog

Philip Gass

Read a discussion about the RAUPE in German.

Heute früh sah ich unter dem Ast einer Hainbuche, dessen Blätter in beklagenswertem Zustand waren, dieses Bild:

glänzender Faden
die wohlgenährte Raupe
verlässt ihr Werk

Georg Flamm


Gabi Greve said...

Caterpillars are kigo in Kenya too (and are on the waiting list to be
written up).
At this time of the year, we have hairy caterpillars, which have not yet grown into large and beautiful butterflies.
Sometimes, they venture into our houses, we know not why, and we may come across them in unexpected places, such as on our beds.

If we notice them, we do not touch them -- but we may be unlucky if
they escape our notice. Their hairs have the ability to enter our skin and break off there, causing highly allergic reactions and even inflammations. No animal will eat them. The hairy skins, even when shed, keep their ability to cause skin irritations.

The hairs may be black, white, grey or other colours. I have not yet managed to work out which caterpillar becomes which butterfly. Most Kenyan butterflies are extremely beautiful, so one develops a certain amount of compassion for the caterpillars...

Isabelle Prondzynski


Unique Designs from Zazzle said...

back and forth
across the leaf -
ravenous jaw


Gabi Greve said...

end of summer
does the caterpillar
know what's coming?

Linda Papanicolaou


Anonymous said...

a butterfly dream ~
a caterpillar nibbles
moonlight leaves

Gabi Greve said...

several of you have expressed a desire to know the names of the
caterpillars in your lives.

roger tory peterson's field guides have drawings and photos of the larval forms of many caterpillars and moths.

my copy of 'eastern butterflies' has 56 drawings of commonly found

my copy of 'moths' has photos of 18, and nice photos of cocoons.

these are available in paperback thru amazon.

i will never forget looking up the huge green horned worms eating my
when i learned that they were swallowtail larvae, i stopped
killing them. instead, i now plant lots of parsley (one of their preferred foods). sometimes i am rewarded with a chrysalis and get to watch a swallowtail emerge.

if you are standing nearby, you can feel the butterfly's altered state when she deposits her eggs.

fluttering birthtrance
the swallowtail
lays her eggs

susan delphine delaney md


Gabi Greve said...


Hairy Caterpillar in Kenya



Green caterpillar (aomushi) Japan and Kenya


Anonymous said...

carefully measured
by the inchworm...

nen irete sashi toru mushi ya kiku no hana


by Issa, 1821

Tr. David Lanoue

Gabi Greve - WKD said...

kemushi yaku juu oo zoo o mitaru ato

burning a hairy caterpillar
after I have seen the statues
of 10 Kings of Hell

Sano Kazue 佐野一恵

about the 10 Kings of Hell

Gabi Greve said...

soosoo o oete kono yo no kemushi yaku 

after the funeral
I burn the hairy caterpillars
of this world . . .

Oono Tatsuji 大野達治