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Why is My Caterpillar Rolling Around? Or Not Moving? [Easy Answer]

My caterpillar hasn’t been moving. What’s wrong? Is it dead? Should I move it to another leaf? Put something else in there? HELP! I’m frantic! I’m in a panic!

Okay, it is time to relax! That’s right. Relax. Breathe. Chances are that your caterpillar is ready to molt. Shed its skin and change instars. It is becoming a bigger caterpillar. And, all your worrying is for nothing! In fact, if you ‘bug’ the little guy, it won’t be pleased with all and you might do more damage than good.

Why is My Caterpillar Rolling Around
Monarch caterpillar with old skin (exuviae)

Raising monarch butterflies requires the right supplies and the right guidance.

Why is My Caterpillar Rolling Around?

Butterfly larvae go through several instars during their life cycle. Each time, they will molt or shed their skin because they outgrow the skin that they are in.

Why Isn’t My Caterpillar Moving?

When it is time to do this, they often will go to find a nice, quiet place and stop moving, sometimes for around 24 hours or so.

For those who raise monarchs indoors, the perfect spot might be on the top (lid) of the rearing container. For others, like this Gulf Fritillary (Dione vanillae), it might be on a leaf.

During this time, it is best to LEAVE THE CATERPILLAR ALONE!

Repeat, leave the larva alone!

Do not touch it. Do not move it. Do not force it onto a leaf. Do not do anything to the poor thing.

Why Your Caterpillar is Rolling Around

It is getting ready to ‘take off its old clothes and ready itself for the new.’ In fact, after the old skin (exuviae) has come off, it is quite an interesting sight!

The larva undulates and the skin moves from head to ‘tail’ and peels off) the new skin is quite moist and takes time to dry and harden. In the meantime, the old skin is often eaten!

So if your little caterpillar doesn’t move for a while, what are you going to do? Leave alone, right? Good! Soon, your little one will be a larger one!

Is My Caterpillar Dead?

Probably not. It takes time for the skin to come off then time for the caterpillar to turn around and go back to eat the skin. If you’re fortunate enough to watch this, it is quite fascinating!

Remember, if the caterpillar is still, it hasn’t moved in some time, then leave it alone!~ Do not touch it. Do not do anything but leave it in peace.

monarch caterpillar instars

Do Monarch Caterpillars Sleep?

Yes, but monarch caterpillars don’t sleep the same way as humans do. Rather than enjoy a full 8 hours of sleep every night, caterpillars rest for shorter periods. And this state of insect rest is called torpor.

Because they lack eyelids, they sleep with their eyes open.

Keep Reading: Are Bugs and Insects the Same?

Your Turn

How is your butterfly raising going? Have you experienced the shock of your caterpillar not moving? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences below.

Abby

Saturday 10th of September 2022

I have had a caterpillar for a few days. Today it has a brownish liquid around it. I’ve read many things as to what this may be, but need confirmation as I’m worried. I don’t want him to die, as myself and kids are enjoying watching it.

Dawn Semon

Tuesday 30th of August 2022

Thanks for the helpful advice. Last week I got interested in the monarch plight and to my delight I have found many monarch eggs and caterpillars on the milkweed that is growing right in our garden. So I decided,at the ripe age of 65,to get on the bandwagon,so to speak. I transferred 2 tiny caterpillars to their own sprig of milkweed this morning. Now (6:15 p.m.) one of them has not moved. I will leave it alone. I assume if it is dead it would fall off the leaf? So I wait.... I am thoroughly enjoying this and hope to help many more in upcoming years, God willing. What a privilege to witness a miracle, right in our yard.

Bryan Haines

Wednesday 31st of August 2022

Exciting to get started - let us know how it goes for you.