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cat·​er·​pil·​lar ˈka-tər-ˌpi-lər How to pronounce caterpillar (audio)
often attributive
: the elongated wormlike larva of a butterfly or moth
also : any of various similar larvae


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used for a tractor made for use on rough or soft ground and moved on two endless metal belts

Examples of caterpillar in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
The very hungry caterpillar Googles all there is to Google about stomach aches, and learns not only that mold can cause stomach aches but also that stomach aches can mean a lot of other things, like cancer. Kathryn Kvas, The New Yorker, 21 Nov. 2023 Troubling trends The collection comes at a time when researchers and government agencies are trying to raise the alarm over declining insect populations, particularly the migratory monarch that experiences a metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. John Sharp |, al, 6 Aug. 2023 Another asks players to stretch an alien caterpillar across the galaxy. Zachary Small, New York Times, 28 July 2023 One of those caterpillars using coneflower (Echinacea) is called the camouflage looper. Miri Talabac, Baltimore Sun, 21 July 2023 Larvae also feed on chilli thrips, thrips, scale, small caterpillars and other small larvae. Rita Perwich, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1 July 2023 White admirals and meadow fritillary caterpillars form chrysalises attached to twigs, and adult morning cloaks hide among sticks and rocks. Tovah Martin, Washington Post, 30 Oct. 2023 Spraying caterpillars with spores of the parasite O. sinensis does not infect them. Longreads, 8 Sep. 2023 But 93 percent of caterpillars don’t develop on trees. Emily Underwood, Smithsonian Magazine, 7 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'caterpillar.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English catyrpel, from Anglo-French *catepelose, literally, hairy cat

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of caterpillar was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near caterpillar




Cite this Entry

“Caterpillar.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


cat·​er·​pil·​lar ˈkat-ə(r)-ˌpil-ər How to pronounce caterpillar (audio)
: the long wormlike larva of a butterfly or moth
also : any of various similar insect larvae (as of a sawfly)


Middle English catyrpel "caterpillar," from an early French dialect word catepelose "caterpillar," literally, "hairy cat," from cate "female cat" and pelose "hairy," derived from Latin pilus "hair" — related to pile entry 5

Word Origin
On looking at a fuzzy caterpillar you might see a resemblance to another animal. One kind of caterpillar must have reminded some people of a bear and was at one time called a bear worm and later a woolly bear. In France long ago, the fuzzy caterpillars probably made some people think of little dogs. The French word for caterpillar is chenille, which comes from a Latin word for "little dog." But our word caterpillar comes from an early French dialect word, catepelose, which is made up of two words meaning "hairy cat." Pelose, meaning "hairy," was taken from Latin pilus, "hair." This Latin word is the same root that gives us our modern English word pile, meaning "a coat or surface of short furry hairs." Since many caterpillars are covered with such a coat, the name is very fitting.

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