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What species is this colourful caterpillar?

What species is this colourful caterpillar?


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What species is this colourful caterpillar found on a road in Central Europe?


Just by its appearance and location, that's maybe a Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda), a kind of moth found in Central Europe.

You can find some observations of that species on iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/205294-Calliteara-pudibunda?locale=en-GB


Length: 35mm
Appearance: Like the adult comma butterfly, which resembles a tattered leaf with its scalloped edges and rust-coloured hue, the comma caterpillar is also a master of disguise. It actually looks more like a bird dropping - with rust orange/brown markings and a bright white ‘saddle’ mark. This is so it can hide itself from potential predators when sitting on top of leaves and nettles.
When to see: There are two generations a year, usually around April-May and again in September.
Where to see: They live in open woodland and woodland edges.

Both the comma caterpillar and its butterfly are masters of disguise

Credit: fabioski / chillingworths / iStock.com


Clay Caterpillars: A Tool for Ecology & Evolution Laboratories

NICHOLAS A. BARBER is Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115. E-mail: [email protected]

Nicholas A. Barber Clay Caterpillars: A Tool for Ecology & Evolution Laboratories. The American Biology Teacher 1 September 2012 74 (7): 513–517. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2012.74.7.15

I present a framework for ecology and evolution laboratory exercises using artificial caterpillars made from modeling clay. Students generate and test hypotheses about predation rates on caterpillars that differ in appearance or “behavior” to understand how natural selection by predators shapes distribution and physical characteristics of organisms.

Ecological and evolutionary processes determine the patterns and organization of communities of organisms around us. Yet these processes can be challenging to explore in a classroom setting because they often take place within large spatial and long temporal scales. Here, I present a framework to explore both ecological and evolutionary patterns using clay models of caterpillars, placed outdoors to experience “predation” from birds.

A central objective of ecology is to explain the abundance and distribution of organisms through their interactions with the environment and other organisms. One of the most important of these interactions is predation, whereby one organism consumes another. A species is likely to be more abundant in a habitat where it is less likely to be eaten. Predation can also be a strong form of natural selection. For example, habitat selection is often a genetically influenced behavioral trait. Alleles that cause prey to choose high-predation habitats will not last long in a population. But alleles that reduce the likelihood of getting eaten (because the potential prey go where the predators do not) will be passed on by their not-eaten owners. Similarly, physical characteristics that reduce predation rates on a species will also be passed on to progeny.

Caterpillars, the plant-eating larvae of moths and butterflies, must cope with high levels of predation (Bernays, 1997). They are often important food resources for songbirds (Holmes et al., 1979). Caterpillars avoid predation in two ways: physical defenses and camouflage. Many caterpillars are covered with stinging spines or hairs that discourage birds from eating them (Figure 1A Whelan et al., 1989). Others contain toxic chemicals that make birds sick. These toxic chemicals are usually produced by caterpillars’ host plants caterpillars sequester them so that they become concentrated within the insects’ bodies. Monarch butterflies and caterpillars are famous for the cardenolides they sequester from milkweed plants that elicit vomiting in birds. Like poison dart frogs in the tropics, chemically defended caterpillars often have bold, colorful patterns to warn would-be predators to avoid them, known as aposematic coloration.


If you have found a big green caterpillar on your tomatoes, then it&aposs almost certain that your plants are hosting larvae of Manduca quinquemaculata, or one of its very close relatives. Commonly known as "hornworms" due to the curving horn that graces their back end, these big caterpillars are voracious eaters and will do real damage to tomato plants. The huge green caterpillars feed on tomato leaves and young fruit, and if you find one on your vines then you can be pretty sure that there are others.

Despite their size, tomato hornworms are often hard to find among the leaves, because their color and markings are perfectly evolved to provide camouflage from predators (like you). Control of these insects basically means finding them and picking them off by hand and smashing them into your compost pile -- the scavengers there will welcome them. An alternative method of control for these and all other insect pests is dusting with "diatomaceous earth," a naturally occurring substance that kills crawling insects but is organic and chemically inert.

Does it sting? No. The horn on the tail is only for show.

What does it eat? Almost exclusively tomatoes, but sometimes other related plants.

Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Yes. A few can kill an entire tomato vine.

Is it rare? No. This species is found abundantly in the northern United States and southern Canada.

What does it turn into? It becomes a big, strong moth, one of a large group known as "hawkmoths."

Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, these are easy to raise. Keep a folded paper towel in the bottom of the container so it can pupate.


Learn More About Gypsy Moth Identification and Control


    This quick and easy guide includes helpful information and plenty of photos to aid you in identifying gypsy moth caterpillars. Learn about immature caterpillars, full-grown caterpillars, differences between male and female adult moths, and more.

Banded Woolly Bear

By IronChris, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Andy Reago &amp Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Caterpillars that eat multiple plant species are more susceptible to hungry birds

For caterpillars, having a well-rounded diet can be fraught with peril.

UC Irvine and Wesleyan University biologists have learned that caterpillars that feed on one or two plant species are better able to hide from predatory birds than caterpillars that consume a wide variety of plants.

This is probably because the color patterns and hiding behaviors of the caterpillar "specialists" have evolved to allow them to blend into the background flora more effectively than caterpillars that eat many different plant species. Moving among these diverse plant types, the nonspecialists are not as camouflaged, making them easier for hungry birds to spot.

"It's a classic example of risk vs. reward," said Kailen Mooney, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine. "Evolutionarily speaking, a caterpillar must choose between having a broad array of plants to feed upon but facing increased risk of being nabbed by a bird" and having a very limited menu but being less exposed to predators.

Mooney and Michael Singer, associate professor of biology at Wesleyan, led the study, which appears in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

Furthermore, the researchers found that all of this matters a lot to the plants. A species consumed by caterpillars more vulnerable to birds (those with varied diets) benefits from birds removing those caterpillars. In contrast, a plant species fed upon by caterpillars better able to hide from birds (those with highly restricted diets) doesn't benefit as much from birds and must instead defend itself.

Mooney noted that this insight into the secret lives of caterpillars reveals not only the processes driving the evolution of insect diets but also the broad significance of caterpillar feeding for associated plants and birds.


Caterpillars that eat multiple plant species are more susceptible to hungry birds

A tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) caterpillar feeds on black cherry (Prunus serotina), which was the only plant consumed by this species at the research field site. Credit: Michael Singer / Wesleyan University

For caterpillars, having a well-rounded diet can be fraught with peril. UC Irvine and Wesleyan University biologists have learned that caterpillars that feed on one or two plant species are better able to hide from predatory birds than caterpillars that consume a wide variety of plants.

This is probably because the color patterns and hiding behaviors of the caterpillar "specialists" have evolved to allow them to blend into the background flora more effectively than caterpillars that eat many different plant species. Moving among these diverse plant types, the nonspecialists are not as camouflaged, making them easier for hungry birds to spot.

"It's a classic example of risk vs. reward," said Kailen Mooney, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine. "Evolutionarily speaking, a caterpillar must choose between having a broad array of plants to feed upon but facing increased risk of being nabbed by a bird" and having a very limited menu but being less exposed to predators.

Mooney and Michael Singer, associate professor of biology at Wesleyan, led the study, which appears in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

Furthermore, the researchers found that all of this matters a lot to the plants. A species consumed by caterpillars more vulnerable to birds (those with varied diets) benefits from birds removing those caterpillars. In contrast, a plant species fed upon by caterpillars better able to hide from birds (those with highly restricted diets) doesn't benefit as much from birds and must instead defend itself.

Mooney noted that this insight into the secret lives of caterpillars reveals not only the processes driving the evolution of insect diets but also the broad significance of caterpillar feeding for associated plants and birds.


Biology chapter 1

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).

A researcher discovered a species of moth that lays its eggs on oak trees. Eggs are laid at two distinct times of the year: early in spring when the oak trees are flowering and in midsummer when flowering is past. Caterpillars from eggs that hatch in spring feed on oak flowers and look like oak flowers, but caterpillars that hatch in summer feed on oak leaves and look like oak twigs.

How does the same population of moths produce such different-looking caterpillars on the same trees? To answer this question, the biologist caught many female moths from the same population and collected their eggs. He put at least one egg from each female into eight identical cups. The eggs hatched, and at least two larvae from each female were maintained in one of the four temperature and light conditions listed below.

Temperature Day Length
Springlike Springlike
Springlike Summerlike
Summerlike springlike
Summerlike summerlike

In each of the four environments, one of the caterpillars was fed oak flowers, the other oak leaves. Thus, there were a total of eight treatment groups (4 environments × 2 diets).


White-Lined Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

The White-lined Sphinx caterpillar has yellow and black markings on its bright green body with a horn on its back

Another type of ‘hornworm’ is the White-lined Sphinx caterpillar (Hyles lineata) which has a lime-green body. You will also notice black and yellow markings down its side.

This caterpillar species has a variety of colors. Some of the large fat caterpillars are black with stripes and some are green with orange or yellow spots. All of these species have a horn at their tail. Although this makes the caterpillar look menacing, the horn doesn’t sting.

To identify the green White-lined Sphinx species, look for rows of black spots with yellow centers on the side of each segment. Near the prolegs, you will notice a row of black and yellow dots with white specks.

Identifying features

Look for the orange and black horn protruding from the back of this harmless green caterpillar.


20 Facts about Caterpillars

I wrote down 20 facts about Caterpillars to explain their physical characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages.

FACTS ABOUT CATERPILLARS: 1-10

1. Caterpillars are not full-grown insects.

They are larvae of a butterfly or moth. That means, once they grow up, they become either a butterfly or moth.

2. Caterpillar body consists of three parts: head, thorax, and abdomen.

They have 6 legs and several prolegs which are considered fake legs. Their body structure is described in the image below:

3. Caterpillars have a large appetite.

They eat all the time in order to gain enough energy to prepare their body for the next development stage. Most of the caterpillars are herbivorous. Meaning, they only eat plants. However, a few kinds are considered insectivorous (animals that eat insects).

4. They eat leaves of fruit trees and vegetables.

That is how they cause a damage. They eat the plants and deprive them of growth. Detecting a caterpillar in your garden, especially if you see one veraciously eating the leaves out of your garden, is not a good sign.

5. Caterpillars do not have a bone in their body.

Despite the absence of bones, caterpillars can walk using their muscles and making the wavy motions with their body.

6. Caterpillars usually are mistaken to larvae of bees, wasps, and ants.

Although larvae of other insects may look similar, you may still differ caterpillars easily by inspecting their abdominal segments. If the insect you are looking at is truly a caterpillar, then it should have prolegs attached abdominal segment.

7. Caterpillars camouflage in order to protect themselves from predators.

No wonder why we see caterpillars with so many different colors and textures. Interestingly, caterpillars can get the color of the plants they eat. As result, they can blend with the color of plants making themselves almost unnoticeable.

8. Caterpillars release toxic smell to deter predators.

For instance, one kind of caterpillars, hornworms, eat the nicotine plants. As toxic as it is, how can a caterpillar survive after eating it? Scientists are also interested in finding an answer to that question. After the research, scientists found that the caterpillars turn the consumed nicotine leaf into the toxic smell that can serve them as a defense mechanism.

9. Caterpillars have setae (or hair) that makes them unpleasant for swallowing

Despite their slow movement, interestingly, they are not the easiest victims for birds. As I mentioned above, some of them release toxic smell to scare off the predators, while some camouflage themselves to become almost invisible inside the plants. Now, we know that even if the predators found them and not mind eating them with their toxic smell, they still have to worry about swallowing them.

10. Paper wasps, European pied flycatchers, and some spiders are the worst enemies of caterpillars.

Paper wasps catch them to feed their young ones and themselves. Flycatchers also hunt them among oak foliages.

FACTS ABOUT CATERPILLARS: 11-20

11. Some of the caterpillars are poisonous enough to hurt people seriously or even kill them.

Some of the poisonous caterpillars are the Puss caterpillar, Buck moth, Gypsy moth, io moth, Saddleback, and Flannel Moth. These ones are more common in the US territory. However, they can also be found in many other places.

Giant silkworm moth, for example, is considered one the deadliest caterpillars in the world. Released toxic from their setae can cause internal bleeding and can lead to death. This kind of caterpillars, however, mostly found in South America.

12. Some caterpillars become buddies with ants for protection.

According to the research, caterpillars bribe the ants with their secretion in order to make them their bodyguards. The research was conducted to learn the relationship between these insects in depth. Scientists found that ants which ate the caterpillar secretion acted aggressively against the spiders that are trying to approach their buddy caterpillar.

13. Caterpillars grow very fast.

They take “eat big to get big” approach and eat like machines. Some caterpillars are capable of doubling their sizes in a few days.

14. Caterpillars change their skin several times.

Caterpillars don’t do that for fashion. They change their skin because they grow so fast that they do not fit to their own skin. So, they had to shed their old skin and get a new one with new texture and color. Caterpillars shed their skin 4 (four) times until they are finally ready to move on the next stage.

15. Caterpillars turn into a pupa.

Caterpillars turn into a pupa before they become full-grown butterflies or moths. In other word, caterpillars do not stay as caterpillars all the time. When it is time, they make chrysalis around them and stay inside it until they are ready to come out as a butterfly.

16. Most caterpillars are nocturnal.

They do not make themselves available during the day by hiding among the plants. That is one way of protecting themselves from daytime predators.

17. It is impossible to determine if a caterpillar is a male or a female.

It is because they are not fully developed yet. Their reproductive organs start to develop when they are inside a pupa. This also means that caterpillars do not mate or reproduce.

18. Caterpillars cause damage like many other pests.

Once they get into a garden, they are like unstoppable eating machines. Caterpillars are in this stage for one mission only, and that is eating and gaining mass. However, their selfishness causes unbearable damages for farmers.

19. Caterpillars have 6 eyes (ocelli) but none of them see anything except lights.

The main thing is quality, not a quantity. We can relate that saying with caterpillar eyes. Those six eyes are unable to form an image, only they can help caterpillars to differentiate the light from darkness.

20. Caterpillars have 3,350 more muscles than humans do.


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