One of the most interesting creatures on the planet lives right here in New York State... have you ever seen a real-life Pokémon before?

It's hard to keep up with all the fascinating animals in New York. From hungry porcupines that allegedly eat cars to the black bear that tried to go to college in New Paltz, NY, wildlife in the Empire State seems to always be up to something. But what about the critter that inspired an entire Pokémon character?

A spicebush swallowtail caterpillar crawling on a leaf
The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar is one of the most fascinating creatures in New York State (Backyard Ecology via YouTube)

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar in New York State

The spicebush swallowtail is as interesting as its name sounds. While the insect is known mostly as a butterfly, their caterpillar form is what makes them stand out among the myriad animals crawling around New York backyards. Not only do they have unique defense mechanisms, but they look almost exactly like a creature from one of the most successful animated franchises of all time.

The large "eyes" of the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar are actually just a cosmetic defense mechanism (Backyard Ecology via YouTube)
The large "eyes" of the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar are actually just a cosmetic defense mechanism (Backyard Ecology via YouTube)

Identifying the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar (thankfully not a leaf-destroying invasive species like a certain other caterpillar in New York) can be recognized by its bright green color and large black and yellow "eyes", which are really just spots on its body (above). The illusion gives it the appearance of a small snake, as well as the "Caterpie" Pokémon character (below). Here's how to find them:

Where to Find Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillars in New York

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars like to hide in one of several host plants including spice bush and sassafras. Young caterpillars are brown (mimicking bird poop), and older caterpillars are "Caterpie green". Look for "leaf tacos" (explained in the video below) on backyard plants... they may be hiding a real life Pokémon!

The last bit of good news about these fantastic caterpillars is that they are harmless. Not only are they helpful to the environment, but the caterpillar (and the spicebush swallowtail butterfly) is non-toxic, unlike its lookalike, the pipevine swallowtail.

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While the spicebush swallowtail should be welcomed in all New York yards, there are unfortunately many species of both plants and animals that should not. These invasive species harm our natural ecosystem and make it harder for native creatures like butterflies to thrive. Check out some of the worst offenders below.

Watch Out For These 5 Dangerous Invasive Pests In New York State

Gallery Credit: Yasmin Young

New York State's Invasive Plants To Be On The Lookout For

These seven invasive plants have become a nuisance to the wildlife and people living in New York State. Learn more about them and how to remove them at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation here.