Here are some of the most amazing caterpillar facts for kids including its diet, habitat, behavior and widespread distribution. Caterpillars are the larval form of members belongs to Lepidoptera order. Butterflies and moths also befall under the same order. Nearly all caterpillars are herbivorous except some that are insectivorous. These species are voracious feeders and most of them are regarded as pests in agriculture. Most of the moths are better known in their caterpillar phases for the reason that they cause damage to fruits and agriculture produce. These insects have sensitive body that can develop quickly between moults. Only the head capsule is toughened. Like ants, caterpillar exhibit sharp and tough mandibles for chewing leaves. There are spinnerets behind the mandibles for maneuvering silk.
Few larvae that belong to the Hymenoptera order can seemingly look like the caterpillars of the Lepidoptera. These kinds of larvae are largely seen in the family of sawfly. While these larvae apparently bear a resemblance to caterpillars, they can be recognized by the presence of prologs on each abdominal section, an absence of hooks and crochets on the prologs, foremost ocellie on the head capsule, and a deficiency of an upside down Y-shaped suture ahead of the head.
Most animals prey on caterpillars as they are rich in protein. Consequently, caterpillars have developed several means of defense. The caterpillar’s appearance often drives away the potential predator: besides, the spots and certain body parts can make it look as if it is poisonous, or larger in size and hence threatening, or non-edible. However, few species are poisonous and they have the ability to shoot acid. There are long “whip-like” organs anchoring at the ends of their body. The caterpillars jiggle these organs to scare flies and bugs. They have also advanced strong defense against physical conditions including cold and dry environmental conditions.
The majority of caterpillars is cryptically colored and bears a resemblance to the plants on which they feed and might have sections that mimic plant parts including horns. The size ranges from 1 mm to 75 mm (3.0 inches). Some of these species appear to be bird droppings in the environment. These insects tend to take aggressive self-defense measures. Although there are some bird such cuckoo that gulp down the hairiest of caterpillars. The most hostile caterpillar defenses are bristles that are linked to the venom glands. These bristles are known as urticating hairs. The South American silk moth generates one of the strong defensive chemicals. The venom is poisonous enough to instigate human to hemorrhage to death. For potential medical investigations, the chemical is being examined.
A deep study of caterpillar facts suggest that some species are known to reiterate acidic digestive juices at attacking enemies. The majority of papilionid larvae gives rise to bad smells from extrudable glands known as osmeteria. Caterpillars are capable to elude their predators by using silk line as well as drooping off from branches when perturbed.
There are some species that seek protection by associating themselves with ants. The Lycaenid butterflies are particularly renowned for this. They tend to communicate with ant defenders by vibrations and chemical means and normally offer fare rewards. There are few species that are regarded as gregarious. These insects can be sometimes confused with the sawflies larvae.
As evident from the nature of caterpillars that they predominantly rely on leaves and plants matter for their ultimate consumption. Caterpillar facts about their diet show that nearly all caterpillars are herbivorous. Some species limit themselves to particular plants, while others rely on an assortment of plants as they are polyphagus. There are some that feed in clothes moth detritus. Clothes moth is one of them. Nearly all caterpillars eat eggs, scale insects, ant larvae and aphids. Few species are considered to be cannibals in that they prey on other caterpillar species. There are some that are parasitic on cicadas or leaf hoppers.
These insects damage the agricultural produce and crops by eating leaves. The tendency for damage is increased by monocultural farming traditions, where the caterpillar is exclusively adapted to the host plant under cultivation. One of the specie named cotton bollworm causes great losses. Other species feed on food crops. Farmers tend to use several pesticides to get rid of caterpillars. However, on the negative side, numerous species have turned out to be resilient toward these pesticides. Besides, plants have also developed mechanisms of resistance in order to get rid of being eaten by caterpillars.
Many caterpillars are predominantly plant-eaters and they fancy eating higher plants, making no distinction between herbaceous plants and trees. They are also known to consume plants and trees which are poisonous to humans or few animals, without undergoing any ill effects. Lepidoptera do not specifically eat any particular part of a vegetable matter. Some species attack the foliage, others tunnel in the wood or feed at the roots, while still others feed on the fruit and seeds. All caterpillars are harmless to humans but they do not beneficial to man and crops either.
Caterpillars tend to adjust themselves on the leaves and start eating bits by bits, beginning from the edge, so that nothing is left within minutes except the stalk and few ribs. When there is excessive infestation, locusts are the only species that exceed the greed of mature caterpillars. Several wood-eating caterpillars are likely to spend more than two years as larvae, having to absorb disproportionate quantity of food due to its low nutritional worth. Thus, they are considered to be true pests for agriculture and forestry.
The leaf-mining caterpillars display a fascinating behavior in that they bore tunnels inside the thickness of a leaf or stalk, without damaging the outside. These tunnels can be seen if leaves are exposed to the light. The tunnels built by most caterpillars, follow a clearly defined course, often found to intersect once or twice without meeting. However, some species are found to bore rounded areas instead of tunnels. These rounded areas are similar to the blotch-like spots or blisters. Some members of the Coleophoridae, and all the members of Lithocolletidae and Nepticulidae are very expert at this. The Coleophoridae members also cut a piece of leaf and join it with silk threads. The caterpillar comes part-way out of the case and bores into a little area of the leaf, sporadically moving on to virgin areas which it ruins in the same way.
Torticidae caterpillars are typically skillful at rolling leaves. They tend to wrap leaves around the apparent case through the strong silk threads; then they build nests inside the case. Here’s how caterpillars protect themselves from the outside world while spending their lives including the chrysalis stage.
Although most caterpillars feed on plants, a good many number of these species also consume a wide variety of other foods including dried mushrooms, stored cereals and flour, dead wood, corks, dried fruits, sometimes chocolates; besides, they are often found to consume parts of the nests of Hymenoptera, specifically of wasps, ants and bees. Some member of the families of Gelechiiadae, Pyralidae, and Tineidae are considered to be the worst offenders at stored foods, as they can cause great damage if not dealt on timely basis.
Some other species of Lepidoptera, especially those of Microlepidoptera, are known to consume animal corpses and other substances of animal origin. Unlike any other family members, the Tineidae are absolutely unforgiving in their attacks on birds’ feathers, group of insects, embalmed higher animals, man-made fibers, hairs, wool, and fur. A common clothes-moth which is found in many homes is an example to this. As a matter of fact, adult moths do not pose any threat to clothing and there is little to be gained by killing it. It is the caterpillar that should be dealt strictly and ferreted out, though they often go unnoticed and left in peace.
Some species are known to consume different types of dung. A few—although the economic harm they cause is significant—feed on beeswax and spend a considerable part of their lives inside beehives. The Greater Wax moth (Galleria mellonella) belongs to the family of Pyralidae is the best known example. Once the infestation is on a massive scale, the damage it causes to beehives is serious. Some species of lepidopteridae are also predatory. They are likely to offend other insects and their eggs which they’re really fond of. These aggressive members regularly prey on ants and are also found to decimate their broods and young larvae.
Fortunately, not too many parasitic lepidopteridae exists and it is normally other insects that suffer from them, though certain species overrun such invertebrates as the sloth. Scientists have not yet discovered the methods they employ while attacking sloths as well as the substance they derive from their hosts. Under exceptional circumstances, lepidoteridae are likely to take on caterpillars of their own species and this usually occurs in case of adverse climatic conditions or overcrowding—such as excessive dryness. Conditions of this sort normally arise either from where they are bred or after the immediate appearance of a large number of individuals.
Caterpillars are demanding feeders. They should travel great distances in search of food, so they have to be good walkers, too. The prolegs play an imperative role in this. The caterpillars anchor themselves by tiny hooks and sometimes also by suckers on the prolegs. The caterpillars emit silk threads through their special glands and these threads not only offer a means of attachment but also provide a safety to these insects. If a caterpillar loses its balance it will not fall down rudely rather will drop gently. After this, it will climb back again to its first position with the help of a thread emitting from its mouth and already-attached there.
Some larvae are capable to move quickly that they often make sudden jerk movements while others are too slow to leave such impressions. These characteristics vary due to the number of positions of the prolegs. ‘Looping’ action is one of the unique movements of Geometridae caterpillars which acquire their name from the way they move along a surface seems like they are measuring it inch by inch. Unlike typical caterpillars, they have less prolegs. The caterpillars attach their anal prolegs to the surface while thrusting their bodies in the forward direction in order to move forward. After this, they take the position with the help of thoracic legs and take along the abdomen which forms a loop behind them. They now repeat the process. Geometreidae caterpillars are known for their agility so much so that they can measure large distances in a short time.
Some species that can form protective cases around themselves from different materials also travel in an odd fashion; they employ thoracic legs to thrust forward. The body-front comes from the case and extends forward for certain distance. They then hold themselves on the surface with their legs while dragging the rest of its body behind it. The case is firmly hooked to the body on the prolegs.
The sole objective of caterpillars’ movement is to reach a place where the food is abundant. However, caterpillars move at night and there are no points of reference in their surroundings that allow them to retrace their steps but they can manage to return to their nests even in extreme dark without any difficulty whatsoever.
Some caterpillars living in the huge seeds of exotic plants have displayed a distinctive way of moving. When the sun-rays strikes the seed hard and the temperature inside turns out to be unbearable, the caterpillar, which has neither the ability nor wishes to leave the seed, folds itself together and abruptly springs in such a way that the seed is fairly jolted.
Generally, caterpillars are tireless workers but they do take rest for a while from their daily chores. Some are immobile species and they simply change colors with respect to their surroundings. Other caterpillars stick to the surface with the help of a silk thread and then throw it using only their prolegs.
These caterpillars are often involved in social behavior even at times of rest. Depending upon the species, they build communal nests with the help of a sizeable silk web on the tree branches. This is called communal web. Unlike other Lepidoptera including Hyponomeutidae, processionary caterpillars leave their nests when they go out for food expeditions. Hyponomeutidae do not leave their nests or perhaps they don’t need to since they find food inside the nest.
Some caterpillars are migratory like moths and butterflies. This is common specifically in South Africa and America. However, they do not voyage great distances and it’s the overcrowding that mainly provokes migration from the immediate emergence of large number of caterpillars in a restricted area. Oddly enough, migratory caterpillars typically belong to species that migrate as adults.