9 Incredibly Cute Arthropods

A spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sits on a leafy twig.

Colleen Prieto / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Insects and other tiny arthropods come in various shapes, sizes, and levels of cuteness. Unlike humans, members of the phylum arthropoda are invertebrates, meaning that they lack a backbone. They also have an exoskeleton that supports and protects their segmented bodies, along with paired and jointed appendages. Arthropods have been crawling the earth for 500 million years, and continue to evolve.

Arthropods live all over the world and are one of the most diverse groups found inside structures—yes, that includes inside your house. While neither tiny blood-sucking mosquitos nor big buzzing flies are usually classified as cute, plenty of arthropods are downright adorable.

From jumping spiders to damselflies, here are some of the most charming-looking creatures on six (or eight) legs. After seeing how cute they are close up, you might think twice about squishing the next bug that gets a bit too close for comfort.

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Jumping Spider

A jumping spider sits on a branch.

Opoterser / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

There are more than 5,000 species in the jumping spider family called Salticidae, and as this little guy proves, at least a couple of them are adorable. Most of them are hairy, very small, and live in tropical places. Like all spiders, they have eight eyes, but jumping spiders have particularly excellent vision. Jumpers stalk their prey, throwing out silk from their bodies to pin their prey down before injecting venom with powerful jaws. Sounds eerie, but they're still sweet to look at from afar.

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Silkworm Moth

A silkworm moth close-up.

CSIRO / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Silkworms are native to northern China, where Saturniinae have been domesticated to produce raw silk. The silkworm moth (or silkmoth) is an all-white creature with a very hairy body. Over years of evolving as a domesticated species, it's lost the ability to fly.

There are many legends about how the insect's silk was originally discovered. In one ancient tale, a silkworm cocoon fell into an empress's cup of tea. As she watched, silk began miraculously unraveling in the tea, and she is said to have been the first to person to weave silk into cloth.

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Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar

A milkweed tussock moth caterpillar on a leaf.

Kevin Ripka / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The hairy caterpillars of the milkweed tussock moth, the Euchaetes egle, look like a cross between a bristle brush and a really fluffy dachshund. They have alternating tufts of orange, white, and black hairs, which explains why they're also sometimes known as the milkweed tiger moth. Once they transform into moths, their wings are a grayish tone, while their bodies are yellow with a bold row of black dots. The best place to find one of these tricolor insects is on a milkweed plant, of course.

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A damselfly's head.

Gilles San Martin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Damselflies, or Zygoptera, are like dragonflies, but with smaller, slimmer bodies, and wings that fold when they're resting. (Here's how to tell the difference between dragonflies and damselflies.) The damselfly has huge, widely separated compound eyes on each side of its head, plus an additional three smaller eyes on top. Two small antennae plus a brilliant shade of blue on this particular damselfly make for an especially adorable face.

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Saddleback Caterpillar

A saddleback caterpillar sits on a small branch.

Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State Univ / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0 US

The slug moth, or Acharia stimulea, is cutest in its larvae stage, when it's known as the quirky-colored saddleback caterpillar. This fuzzy brown bug looks like it's wearing a vibrant green saddle blanket. Uniquely adorable, saddlebacks are mostly found in eastern North America. If you happen upon one, don't be tempted to touch it or pick it up, because you might regret it. The caterpillar's prickly spines are hollow and connected to poison glands underneath its skin. If you do get pricked, it can result in a painful sting.

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Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

A spicebush swallowtail caterpillar sits on a leaf.

Ron Kruger / Flickr / Public Domain

The Papilio troilus, also known as the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar, has big, almost cartoonish circular skin markings that you might mistake for eyes. But if you take a closer look, you'll see real eyes at the lower part of the front of its head. The caterpillars have an interesting journey when it comes to their coloring: They start out brown, but then quickly turn greenish-yellow, and after transforming into the regal swallowtail butterfly, they turn back to brown or even black. However, with a splash of bright greenish-blue on its hind wings, the butterfly retains some of its bright allure.

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Bunny Harvestman

A bunny harvestman on a wet leaf.

Andreas Kay / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A harvestman is a colloquial term for the third-largest group of arachnids, of the order Opiliones. They're not spiders, but they're definitely in the same class. More than 6,500 species in 50 families fall under the Opiliones umbrella—none of them stranger nor cuter than the bunny harvestman.

A harmless arachnid, its name and little head conjure images of hopping bunnies spotted in parks and backyards across the country. They aren't known to bite humans, either, which definitely adds to their appeal.

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Happy Face Spider

Happy face spider with spawn on a leaf.

Nate Yuen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

To see the happy face spider (Theridion grallator) and admire the smile on its pale abdomen in person, you would have to be on the islands of Oahu, Molokai, Maui, or Hawaii, where it resides. You'll also have to look very hard to spot one of these grinning insects; they're only about one-fifth of an inch long. Scientists believe the happy face spider may have developed its distinctive markings to scare off birds (its only real predator) from eating it, according to the Smithsonian's Encyclopedia of Life.

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Cross-Eyed Planthopper

A macro shot of a cross-eyed planthopper on a fuzzy leaf. lead.

gbohne / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

With its crossed eyes and comically large wings, this planthopper certainly looks like the creation of an amused cartoonist. There are more than 12,500 species of planthopper, or Fulgoromorpha, an insect that was named after either its resemblance to plants or its ability to hop around like a grasshopper. However, these insects are much more likely to walk slowly or, in this case, to make use of a pair of notably oversized wings to navigate the natural world.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is an arthropod?

    In addition to being invertebrates, five characteristics distinguish all arthropods: exoskeletons; many pairs of limbs; jointed legs; bilateral symmetry, meaning the left side of an arthropod is the same as the right; and bodies that are made of segmented parts.

  • Are all arthropods insects?

    No. Insects are one subphylum of arthropods. Common other classifications of arthropods are crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters; myriapods, which include centipedes and millipedes; and chelicerates, the most recognizable of which are arachnids.

  • Do all arthropods have six or eight legs?

    No. Spiders, of course, have eight legs, and insects have six. But millipedes can have hundreds of little limbs, and lobsters are decapods, so they have 10 appendages.

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