Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

This caterpillar wears its old heads as hats

The Gum Leaf Skeletoniser moth has a pretty badass name.

This caterpillar wears its old heads as hats

Illustration via Eric Carle, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"

The Gum Leaf Skeletoniser moth has a pretty badass name. It also has a pretty badass caterpillar, in as much as caterpillars can be badass. As they grow, they hang on to parts of their body that they’ve shed and then continue to wear them in a big stack on top of their heads.

“Moths and butterflies are just flying gonads that make new caterpillars. Caterpillars are feeding machines with one primary purpose: eating enough food to build the body of a future moth or butterfly. A caterpillar stuffs itself with food, but eventually is limited by its exoskeleton, which is rigid and can’t grow. ‘Pillars deal with this by splitting their external skin, shedding it, and making a new, bigger exoskeleton so they have room to grow.  For some reason, this species of moth caterpillars keeps their heads and build themselves a strange “hat” that gets taller as they grow.”

No one’s figured out why the caterpillars wear the head stack, but the best guess is that it helps protect them from predators – birds go to take a bite of the most exposed part of the caterpillar and wind up with a beak full of old dead exoskeleton, telling them there’s no meal to be had here. [Bug Girl’s Blog]

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