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How do caterpillars defend themselves?

Caterpillars are not sitting ducks! They may be soft, slow and weak, but that doesn’t mean they cannot defend themselves. Let’s find out how!

Camouflage

Caterpillars are quite sneaky. Through camouflage, they conceal themselves to blend into their surroundings, making them easily overlooked by enemies. They may also disguise as other objects through their shapes and colours

Caterpillar camouflage

This early stage caterpillar of the Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) looks like a bird dropping.

Toxins

Some caterpillars protect themselves with the poisonous chemicals from poisonous plants that they are able to eat. A predator that attacks will be disgusted and may even fall sick after swallowing the caterpillar. So, it learns to avoid the same type of caterpillars in the future and leave them alone.

Caterpillar toxins

The caterpillar of the King Crow (Euploea phaenareta) feeds on the poisonous Suicide Tree.

Hairs

Prevention is better than cure. Hairs, spikes and thorns on a caterpillar’s body will discourage a predator from touching them in the first place. Sometimes, these projections are not sharp enough to puncture the skin, even if they may look so!

Caterpillar hairs

The caterpillar of the Clipper (Parthenos sylvia) looks painful to touch!

Ants

Some butterflies (mostly from the family Lycaenidae) don’t defend themselves; they outsource this service to their good friends: the ants. These caterpillars reward their bodyguards with a sweet liquid in return for the protection.

Caterpillar ants

Tents

Skipper caterpillars (family Hesperiidae) roll up pieces of leaves to form a tube, or bind them together with silk. They hide in these shelters during the day and only emerge at night to feed.

Caterpillar tents

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