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A Caterpillar is the larval stage of a lepidopteran (Butterflies and moths) Not to be confused as with most common names, the application


of the word is used in multiple case scenarios, since the larvae of sawflies are commonly called caterpillars as well.

Appearance[]

A worm-like insect with several pairs of legs alongside the three main forelegs used for gripping onto food, the remaining legs are called prolegs, prolegs are used for clinging onto vertical and horizontal surfaces providing an access to food, the prolegs lack any muscles or joints hence caterpillars are considered as six-legged animals, Caterpillars often change their physical features and appearance as they molt with a change in their colors, Most caterpillars hatch as a newly born larva with a body covered with hairs. Most caterpillars have a large bulbous head which may often possess a variety of marking that may make the insect resemble a bigger predator or another species, caterpillars can also have physical features apart from these, antennae, protective hair and cryptid colorations to seemingly blend into their surroundings. A few species also have "Horns" that are mostly used to release a foul smelling odor used to keep away predators upon feeling threatened, these species will show their tiny horns only release a foul odor.

Behavior[]

Feeding Behavior[]

Laothoe populi caterpillar

Caterpillars, upon hatching will firstly consume the remaining egg shells as a source of nutritional food, then after doing so, they will start consuming the leaves of their host plant, some species such as harvester butterflies, caterpillars have been known to have a carnivorous diet and feed on wooly aphids, however this strange metabolism is quite unusual for any lepidopteran. While on the other hand, most caterpillars feed on plant materials mainly leaves of their host plant. They have an incredibly large metabolism regardless of their minute size. Caterpillars have bodies that grow at a rapid pace between molts and some species can be as big as 14 cm in length and some less than a single millimeter.

Defense mechanisms[]

Saddleback caterpillar

Caterpillars possess a wide array of specialized external organs used for self defense, as there are many predators seeking for an easy snack among the wild, Some caterpillars have hollow spikes that inject a harpoon of toxins into their victim and some have a flow of toxics inside their bodies which can only be felt upon making a direct physical contact, but many have vibrant coloration that other than making them visible to their predators but also making them more unappealing and unlikely to be consumed by unsuspecting predators, some have cryptic colorations making them practically invisible to their predators and the remaining portion use mimicry and by mimicking other venomous species instead of mimicking their surroundings. But most caterpillars obtain poison from the plants they feed on making them venomous to predators, Daphnis nerii (Oleander hawkmoth) is a great example of such.

Life cycle[]

Sad pupa.jpg

All caterpillars are juvenile lepidopterans, they start out as an egg and after consuming the leftovers, these little critters start on with their journeys, As they continue to grow, at one point in their lives they outgrow their bodies and they have to molt, caterpillars can molt several times in their lives changing their appearance and size each time they do so, once they've ate enough, caterpillars will suspend themselves underneath a tree branch or a leaf and molt for the one last time, In the case of moths, they will secrete silky threads and cover themselves in a blanket of silk and molt inside of it, Chrysalis made by butterfly larva can offer a manifestation site for parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs inside a caterpillar or it's Chrysalis. When they're ready to emerge, the pupa will open up and a beautiful moth or a butterfly will come out, moths release a powerful enzyme that dissolves the Cocoon's silk providing a hole for the adults to emerge. Then the adults will pump in blood inside their wings and let them dry out under sunlight and finally, the adult Lepidopterans will take a flight for the very first time in their lives, mate and reproduce and so does the cycle continue.

Continue reading: Lepidoptera

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