Caterpillars: Unknown

music
ambience: Costa Rican Rainforest

They’re creatures that we’ve all seen hundreds of times and yet – worldwide – scientists say we know almost nothing about them. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

“The strange thing about caterpillars is that everybody in the world knows what a caterpillar is when you mention it. Australia, China, United States, Brazil.”

Dan Janzen is a professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies caterpillars in the Cost Rican rainforest.

“Everybody knows what a caterpillar is, and most people know they turn into moths or butterflies. And that’s where the information stops. And the irony is, they eat more plant material, more leaves, than any other group of organisms in the world. But nobody studies them as objects. They’re either studied as pests in a field, or something a school child brings home the first time they find one, and that’s sort of it. You can step into any forest, any where in the world, pick up a caterpillar, and then go to the science community and say, ‘What is this caterpillar?’, and 99% of the time nobody will be able to tell you. Nobody will be able to tell you what the species is, what it does, how long it lives, where it lives, what it eats… Caterpillars are the last unknown group of big things on the terrestrial world.”

In future programs, we’ll hear why the caterpillars’ role is so crucial to the ecosystems they inhabit and why science and industry are going to be paying close attention to them.

If you’d like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Caterpillars: Unknown

One of the world's most familiar and prevalent creatures is one we know least about.
Air Date:10/15/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:


music
ambience: Costa Rican Rainforest

They're creatures that we've all seen hundreds of times and yet - worldwide - scientists say we know almost nothing about them. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

"The strange thing about caterpillars is that everybody in the world knows what a caterpillar is when you mention it. Australia, China, United States, Brazil."

Dan Janzen is a professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies caterpillars in the Cost Rican rainforest.

"Everybody knows what a caterpillar is, and most people know they turn into moths or butterflies. And that’s where the information stops. And the irony is, they eat more plant material, more leaves, than any other group of organisms in the world. But nobody studies them as objects. They’re either studied as pests in a field, or something a school child brings home the first time they find one, and that’s sort of it. You can step into any forest, any where in the world, pick up a caterpillar, and then go to the science community and say, 'What is this caterpillar?', and 99% of the time nobody will be able to tell you. Nobody will be able to tell you what the species is, what it does, how long it lives, where it lives, what it eats... Caterpillars are the last unknown group of big things on the terrestrial world."

In future programs, we'll hear why the caterpillars' role is so crucial to the ecosystems they inhabit and why science and industry are going to be paying close attention to them.

If you'd like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music