Science Diary: Caterpillars – Stingers

music; ambience: morning rainforest, Tirimbina, Costa Rica, birds, insects

“It was bright dayglow green. It had a big patch on its front that looked like a giant ant’s head. And Lee’s letting it crawl on him and kind of poking at it. And all of a sudden it sort of explodes in his hand. His hand was just coated with this stuff that started to burn. And he was like, okay, we’re putting Little Joey away. Let’s get to the water.”

Now who said studying caterpillars was for the faint of heart? Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Grant Gentry and Lee Dyer investigate the crucial role that caterpillars play in the rainforests of central America. Caterpillars eat more rainforest plants than any other insects. And lots of creatures eat caterpillars, or try to and that’s where the stinging comes into the picture.

“It’s a good defense against various types of predators and maybe even parasites, especially birds. Birds aren’t the most important predators of caterpillars, but they have had a big impact on the evolution of caterpillars. And a lot of the colors and things like spines and hairs that you see in caterpillars, are likely an adaptation to prevent being eaten by birds. The caterpillars that tend to be stingers are the hairy or spiny caterpillars. Stinging doesn’t refer to them actively putting a stinger into you, it just is the fact that you brushed against their hair or spine and got a barb in your skin or got some chemicals on your skin. And it can give you really good rashes. Some people have terrible allergic reactions. There is cases in South Africa where some people have such bad allergic reactions to the sting that it kills them.”

There are no killer caterpillars in the US, but we recommend caution when handling them. We’ll hear more about the ecology of the rainforest in future programs.

Our latest project is a competition for third to sixth graders. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation.

Science Diary: Caterpillars - Stingers

The sting of a caterpillar can keep predators, and human researchers, at bay.
Air Date:07/20/2011
Scientist:
Transcript:

music; ambience: morning rainforest, Tirimbina, Costa Rica, birds, insects

"It was bright dayglow green. It had a big patch on its front that looked like a giant ant's head. And Lee's letting it crawl on him and kind of poking at it. And all of a sudden it sort of explodes in his hand. His hand was just coated with this stuff that started to burn. And he was like, okay, we're putting Little Joey away. Let's get to the water."

Now who said studying caterpillars was for the faint of heart? Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Grant Gentry and Lee Dyer investigate the crucial role that caterpillars play in the rainforests of central America. Caterpillars eat more rainforest plants than any other insects. And lots of creatures eat caterpillars, or try to and that's where the stinging comes into the picture.

"It's a good defense against various types of predators and maybe even parasites, especially birds. Birds aren't the most important predators of caterpillars, but they have had a big impact on the evolution of caterpillars. And a lot of the colors and things like spines and hairs that you see in caterpillars, are likely an adaptation to prevent being eaten by birds. The caterpillars that tend to be stingers are the hairy or spiny caterpillars. Stinging doesn't refer to them actively putting a stinger into you, it just is the fact that you brushed against their hair or spine and got a barb in your skin or got some chemicals on your skin. And it can give you really good rashes. Some people have terrible allergic reactions. There is cases in South Africa where some people have such bad allergic reactions to the sting that it kills them."

There are no killer caterpillars in the US, but we recommend caution when handling them. We'll hear more about the ecology of the rainforest in future programs.

Our latest project is a competition for third to sixth graders. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation.