Caterpillar facts

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    Jacqui
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    Fascinating facts about caterpillars (larvae)

    Did you know that caterpillars can smell?

    Many caterpillars drop to the ground when disturbed… and re-find their hostplant when the danger has passed. This is especially common with gregarious species… like the Checkerspots for example…which will drop off at the slightest disturbance.

    Also they are programmed to drop when they are hit by CO2. A browsing animal breathes out and down they go – better to wait until its gone, than risk being eaten accidentally.

    Many butterfly species are laid on plants where there is no hope of all the caterpillars finding enough food. They strip the plant and then all march of in a straight line to the next available food source. They know exactly where it is through smell.

    Caterpillars smell rather well… They use the plants’ chemical defences to ensure they are about to eat their correct hostplant.

    Plants of course don’t plan to be eaten, they want to grow.

    Over millions of years plants have developed chemical defences. For example mustard oil in cabbages, this is actually meant to deter bugs from eating it. Over the same millions of years butterflies have evolved to use these chemicals as hostplant indicators.

    If you put some cabbage white caterpillars in a tub, and then put a small bit of cotton wool in the corner with some mustard oil on it, they’ll all wander off the cabbage to the stronger smelling cotton wool even though they have no hope of eating it.

    Of course, the cabbage failed to deter us humans as well. We smell cabbage – we recognise it’s "food".

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