Caterpillars: Hamburger to the World

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ambience: Costa Rican Rainforest

Caterpillars turn into moths and butterflies – sure, but that’s not all they do. In ecosystems around the world, they’re an important source of nourishment and not just to the creatures that eat the. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

“Caterpillars are food for almost every carnivore. That means birds, mammals, spiders, beetles. Everybody eats caterpillars. So it’s a sort of hamburger in the world.”

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

“Now, it’s not that any carnivore can eat all caterpillars. But, caterpillars show up in the diet of everybody. So that’s one of their importances. The other side of their importance is that caterpillars eat leaves, and they eat lots of leaves. They eat more leaves than any other group of organisms in the world. But, when you eat leaves, you produce droppings. So there is this constant rain of this partly digested material from the tops of the trees down to the forest floor. So from the soil, and the litter, and the forest floor viewpoint, caterpillars produce a huge amount of input of material, organic material that they, then the guys on the ground, get to eat during the summer months, during the growing season. So if you’re an earthworm, or you’re a mite in the soil, or you’re anybody who lives in the soil, you don’t have to wait until the end of the year before the leaves fall, and you get your chance to eat them. They’re constantly delivered to you in a partly digested form by the caterpillars who are up there in the canopy eating leaves. So from the plant standpoint, it’s losing. It’s like a parasite that eats leaves. To a tree a caterpillar is a parasite because it’s eating your leaves, but not killing you. But it’s eating your leaves. To the guys on the ground below, the caterpillar is a deliverer of food.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

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Caterpillars: Hamburger to the World

Caterpillars are prolific providers of food to divergent species, in a rather unconventional way.
Air Date:10/21/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:


music
ambience: Costa Rican Rainforest

Caterpillars turn into moths and butterflies - sure, but that's not all they do. In ecosystems around the world, they're an important source of nourishment and not just to the creatures that eat the. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

"Caterpillars are food for almost every carnivore. That means birds, mammals, spiders, beetles. Everybody eats caterpillars. So it’s a sort of hamburger in the world."

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

"Now, it’s not that any carnivore can eat all caterpillars. But, caterpillars show up in the diet of everybody. So that’s one of their importances. The other side of their importance is that caterpillars eat leaves, and they eat lots of leaves. They eat more leaves than any other group of organisms in the world. But, when you eat leaves, you produce droppings. So there is this constant rain of this partly digested material from the tops of the trees down to the forest floor. So from the soil, and the litter, and the forest floor viewpoint, caterpillars produce a huge amount of input of material, organic material that they, then the guys on the ground, get to eat during the summer months, during the growing season. So if you’re an earthworm, or you’re a mite in the soil, or you’re anybody who lives in the soil, you don’t have to wait until the end of the year before the leaves fall, and you get your chance to eat them. They're constantly delivered to you in a partly digested form by the caterpillars who are up there in the canopy eating leaves. So from the plant standpoint, it’s losing. It’s like a parasite that eats leaves. To a tree a caterpillar is a parasite because it’s eating your leaves, but not killing you. But it’s eating your leaves. To the guys on the ground below, the caterpillar is a deliverer of food."

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music