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larval stage

Of bUtterflies and mOths

Caterpillars /ˈkætərˌpɪlər/ are the larval stage of members of the order Lepidoptera (the insect order comprising butterflies and moths).

As with most common names, the application of the word is arbitrary and the larvae of sawflies commonly are called caterpillars as well.

Caterpillars of most species are herbivorous, but not all; some (about 1%) are insectivorous, even cannibalistic. Some feed on other animal products; for example clothes moths feed on wool, and horn moths feed on the hooves and horns of dead ungulates.

Caterpillars as a rule are voracious feeders and many of them are among the most serious of agricultural pests. In fact many moth species are best known in their caterpillar stages because of the damage they cause to fruits and other agricultural produce, whereas the moths are obscure and do no direct harm. Conversely, various species of caterpillar are valued as sources of silk, as human or animal food, or for biological control of pest plants.

self-defense measures

spiny bristles or long fine hair-like setae

More aggressive self-defense measures are taken by some caterpillars. These measures include having spiny bristles or long fine hair-like setae with detachable tips that will irritate by lodging in the skin or mucous membranes.[5] However some birds (such as cuckoos) will swallow even the hairiest of caterpillars. Other caterpillars acquire toxins from their host plants that render them unpalatable to most of their predators. For instance, ornate moth caterpillars utilize pyrrolizidine alkaloids that they obtain from their food plants to deter predators.

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Some caterpillars obtain protection by associating themselves with ants. The Lycaenid butterflies are particularly well known for this. They communicate with their ant protectors by vibrations as well as chemical means and typically provide food rewards.[14]

Some caterpillars are gregarious; large aggregations are believed to help in reducing the levels of parasitization and predation.[15] Clusters amplify the signal of aposematic coloration, and individuals may participate in group regurgitation or displays.

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