[kat-uh-pil-er, kat-er-]
See more synonyms for caterpillar on

Origin of caterpillar

1400–50; late Middle English catyrpel, probably alteration of an Old North French variant of Old French chatepelose, equivalent to chate cat + pelose hairy (≪ Latin pilōsus; see pilose); -yr probably by association with cater tomcat (see caterwaul); final -er probably by association with piller despoiler (see pillage, -er1); cf. chenille


[kat-uh-pil-er, kat-er-]
  1. a tractor intended for rough terrain, propelled by two endless belts or tracks that pass over a number of wheels. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for caterpillar

canker, butterfly, moth, tractor, larva

Examples from the Web for caterpillar

Contemporary Examples of caterpillar

Historical Examples of caterpillar

British Dictionary definitions for caterpillar


  1. the wormlike larva of butterflies and moths, having numerous pairs of legs and powerful biting jaws. It may be brightly coloured, hairy, or spiny

Word Origin for caterpillar

C15 catyrpel, probably from Old Northern French catepelose, literally: hairy cat


noun trademark
  1. an endless track, driven by sprockets or wheels, used to propel a heavy vehicle and enable it to cross soft or uneven ground
  2. a vehicle, such as a tractor, tank, bulldozer, etc, driven by such tracks
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for caterpillar

mid-15c., catyrpel, probably altered (by association with Middle English piller "plunderer;" see pillage) from Old North French caterpilose "caterpillar" (Old French chatepelose), literally "shaggy cat" (probably in reference to the "wooly-bear" variety), from Late Latin catta pilosa, from catta "cat" (see cat (n.)) + pilosus "hairy, shaggy, covered with hair," from pilus "hair" (see pile (n.3)). Cf. also French chenille "caterpillar," literally "little dog." A Swiss German name for it is teufelskatz "devil's cat." "The caterpillar has in many idioms received the name of other animals" [Kitchin, who cites also Milanese cagnon "little dog," Italian dialectal gattola "little cat," Kentish hop-dog, hop-cat, Portuguese lagarta "lizard." Cf. also American English wooly-bear for the hairy variety. An Old English name for it was cawelworm "cole-worm." Caterpillar tractor is from 1908.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

caterpillar in Science


  1. The wormlike larva of a butterfly or moth. Caterpillars have thirteen body segments, with three pairs of stubby legs on the thorax and several on the abdomen, six eyes on each side of the head, and short antennae. Caterpillars feed mostly on foliage and are usually brightly colored. Many have poisonous spines.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.