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Nature Notebook – Caterpillar Shelter Builders

“There it is!”

“No, it isn’t!”

The caterpillar we saw crawling on the flower disappeared in a flash when we touched the flower stem. Upon closer examination, we discovered a tunnel-like shelter constructed of petal and leaf parts glued together with silk. And…a caterpillar face staring out at us.

Some Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) larvae try to “scare” away predators. Others choose the passive hiding method. Some will spend their entire larval time feeding underneath leaves. Others are nocturnal, when most birds and parasitizing wasps are sleeping. This caterpillar was one of the shelter builders.

Shelters vary by caterpillar species. Leaves, curled or cut and folded, make an excellent hideouts. Other species construct a sticky silky tunnel while others, like ours, utilize parts of the host plant to fabricate their larval hangout.

Although this seems like a good plan, biologists have found that shelter-building species have higher parasitism rates than their non-shelter building compatriots.