Facts about caterpillars

Caterpillar facts

  • Faecal Firing

Some leaf-rolling caterpillars fire faecal pellets from their anuses. “A structure called the anal plate is loaded with a faecal pellet, and then retracted into the pre-firing position and held in place by a cuticular catch. The blood pressure in the anal compartment is then raised by contracting nearby muscles. When the pressure reaches a sufficient level, the catch gives way and the anal plate flicks the pellet of sh.. out at a velocity of over 1 m.s-1.!”

  • The caterpillar of the polyphemus moth, Antheraea polyphemus, can eat 86,000 times its weight at birth in little less than two months.
  • The masked birch caterpillar which uses hair-like structures to make complex vibratory signals to tell an intruder to get off its leaf.
  • Swarms of hungry caterpillars defoliated trees in Russia’s second city, St Petersburg, covering them with cobwebs and transforming public parks into scenes likened by Russia TV to sets from a horror film.
  • Caterpillars are an important traditional source of food in Bas Congo. In common with much of central and southern Africa, they provide a valuable source of protein in a diet otherwise very deficient in protein.
  • Caterpillars have 4,000 muscles against our 630-odd, most of which are used for eating.
  • The sociable tent caterpillar avoids predators by building many-roomed silken tents where hundreds live together.
  • Yandaran, in southern Queensland, issued a desperate plea for help after it was infested with millions of processionary caterpillars, whose hairs can cause skin irritations in humans and make dogs seriously ill. (Processionary caterpillars got their name from the way they travel, nose to tail, when they leave their nest. When these caterpillars march across golf courses, play ceases immediately because it is too hazardous to try to clear them away.)
  • Sopme caterpillars have up to two million hairs each which fly off in the air to cause allergic reactions to humans.
  • A Canadian woman who had travelled to South America died 10 days after stepping, barefoot, on venomous caterpillars. Caterpillars of the Lonomia genus, which secrete a toxin that causes hemorrhaging in humans.
  • Caterpillars eat plant toxins to protect themselves from predation. But although these toxins make them unpalatable to birds and spiders, they weaken the caterpillar’s immune system, leaving them more vulnerable to their greatest enemy of all – wasps and flies (parasitoids).
  • Researchers have found a compound in potatoes and tomatoes that turns tobacco horn¬∑wormcaterpillars into addicts. ¬†In the lab, at least a third of hornworms become so addicted to the compound, indioside D, that they starve rather than switch to food without it,