Wednesday 6 August 2014

Goo Spines of Dalceridae

Image: Gerardo Aizpuru
It's a walking diamond! Perhaps this is one gem who can steal from the rich and give to the poor all by itself.

The Dalceridae family contains 84 species of moth from tropical America. They all start out life as amazing and unusual larvae known as Jewel Caterpillars. There are white ones, green ones, spotted ones, stripy ones and more.

Image: Andreas Kay
Each is smothered in slimy, gooey spines that shimmer in the light such that they look like diamonds and jewels. They don't feel like diamonds, though! These gelatinous tubercles are not venomous stings like in many other caterpillars, and they don't appear to be poisonous either. And yet, these brightly coloured caterpillars fearlessly crawl about on plants for all to see.

Speaking of which, Dalcerids, along with some of their relatives, are also known as Slug Caterpillars. You can see why if you look closely...

They've lost their legs! The tubby, sticky prolegs have been replaced with a flattened surface. Slug Caterpillars walk in a sticky wave rather than making use of individual legs.

And how do they defend themselves from predators? For one, the goo-spines fall off quite easily, which might help the caterpillar escape the clutches of birds and insects.

Secondly, there are the spines themselves. In experiments - the kind where you put two insects in a cage and say "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!" - it was found that ants really don't like Jewel Caterpillars. They would investigate and then walk away. Any ants that tried to take a bite was met with all that goo, and promptly left to clean themselves up.

Video: Quaoar Power

After crawling, eating and defending themselves from attack, it's time to pupate. Jewel Caterpillars hide their cocoon in a folded leaf and soon emerge as...

Image: Andreas Kay
A flying poodle. It's like one of those tiny dogs sticking its head out of a woman's handbag. He's probably called Mr. Snagglepoof or something like that.

Image: Andreas Kay
These moths commonly rest with their legs splayed forward like a waiter who slipped and fell in a comic book.

It's quite the turnaround!


Thanks to Dimitri for this one!


Esther said...

All I see is a walking treat of delicious delicious jelly~

Isn't it funny to think of a caterpillar going through the trouble of evolving prolegs only to lose them again on the way? Make up your mind, nature!

TexWisGirl said...

truly funky for all of their life!

Porakiya said...

these are quite the caterpillars. and the adults, they're so FLUFFY!

Crunchy said...

To go from being a glistening jelly jewel to a waiter, and a clumsy one at that. Oh, how the mighty do fall.

Joseph JG said...

@Esther: Oh, I can't blame you. They do look quite tasty in a way!

@TexWisGirl: Yes! There are many ways to funk!

@Porakiya Draekojin: The moths are weird. Parts of them are fluffy, and other parts are INCREDIBLY fluffy!

@Crunchy: Haha! Cool that they explore different sides of life!