Researchers have discovered a caterpillar that wraps itself in a leafy tube to protect itself from predators.
It moves by grabbing on parts of the ground with its mouth and crawling forwards.
Dr Joe Hanson, a Biologist who spotted the caterpillar, said it was ‘like a knight inside a suit of armor.’
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Dr Hanson, based at the University of Texas at Austin, filmed the caterpillar for his YouTube Channel ‘It’s okay to be smart’ by PBS digital studios.
He was filming in the Amazon rainforest in Peru with an entomologist , Aaron Pomerantz and guide Pedro Lima.
When Dr Hanson picked up the caterpillar it retracted inside its leafy protective tube.
The team called the caterpillar the ‘hermit crab caterpillar’ because it looks like a hermit crab, which uses empty shells from other animals as they grow.
But researchers still need to compare the DNA of this caterpillar with other known species and observe it at the moth stage to categorize it correctly on the tree of life.
Caterpillars use different methods to protect themselves from predators.
When Dr Hanson picked up the caterpillar it retracted inside its leafy protective tube
One of these tactics, ‘freeze and drop’, is used by beet armyworms.
They have small hairs near their heads that detect air vibrations made by wasps’ wings.
If a wasp comes near, the caterpillar freezes and drops off the plant it’s on.
Some caterpillars curl up to look like bird poop so they can camouflage themselves from hungry birds.
Silkmoth caterpillars make clicking noises at their predators to warn them before vomiting a foul smelling liquid which deters predators.
And hornworm caterpillars can puff nicotine out from tiny holes on the sides of their body as a warning to predators.
Dr Hanson told Live Science that this is the first time researchers have seen a caterpillar build a mobile leafy shelter.
The leaf looked like it had been cut and glued together with the caterpillar’s silk or saliva.
There was a bulge in the middle of the tube in four caterpillars that were collected by the researchers.
The researchers think that the extra space may let the caterpillars turn around while they’re inside their tube so they can escape from the other end.
The researchers also observed one of the caterpillars as it pupated to become a moth, photographing it before they released it.
Dr Hanson said that this discovery is a reminder that there are still species in the Amazon rainforest that haven’t been discovered.
STRATEGIES CATERPILLARS USE TO PROTECT THEMSELVES
- Freeze and drop: Beet armyworms have small hair near their heads that detect air vibrations made by wasps’ wings. If a wasp comes near, the caterpillar freezes and drops off the plant it’s on.
- Curl like poop: Some caterpillars curl up to look like bird poop so they can camouflage themselves from hungry birds.
- Defensive vomiting: Silkmoth caterpillars click at their predators to warn them before vomiting a foul smelling liquid which deters predators.
- Nicotine Defense: Hornworm caterpillars can puff nicotine from tiny holes on the sides of their bodies as a warning to predators.