Science Diary: Caterpillars – Cryptic

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

“It’s called Tarjon. And the cool thing about it is it’s got these really sticky hairs. The hairs are covered in little hooks like Velcro or something. So when a predator like a big ant grabs it and starts to chew, these hairs work into its mandibles, its jaws and joints and just freeze them shut. So it’s a really effective defense. There’ll very well defended.”

Caterpillars eat more plants than any other creatures. And lots of creatures want to eat them. So what’s a caterpillar to do? 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. To defend themselves from predators, caterpillars have adopted numerous strategies, including being “cryptic.”

“There is a paradigm that if you’re brightly colored you are probably toxic or distasteful. But some of the most toxic caterpillars I’ve ever worked with, for example the clearwing butterflies, many caterpillars of the clearwing butterflies are just little green guys. They’re really cryptic; they don’t, you know, they don’t have any red or black or any flashy colors on them. And they’re extremely toxic. Something that’s ‘cryptic’ blends in with the surroundings really well, and it can be visually cryptic, where you look just like your background whether you look like dead leaves when you tend to perch on dead leaves, or you look like a fresh leaf and you’re always feeding on that fresh leaf. So you blend in really well. Or you could be behaviorally cryptic, where you don’t move or you tend to mimic the movement of the things around you, so it’s very difficult to see you.”

We’ll hear more about caterpillars in future programs.

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

Science Diary: Caterpillars - Cryptic

Caterpillars are a tasty temptation for quite a few predators and they have evolved a suite of feisty protective measures.
Air Date:07/21/2011
Scientist:
Transcript:

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

"It's called Tarjon. And the cool thing about it is it's got these really sticky hairs. The hairs are covered in little hooks like Velcro or something. So when a predator like a big ant grabs it and starts to chew, these hairs work into its mandibles, its jaws and joints and just freeze them shut. So it's a really effective defense. There'll very well defended."

Caterpillars eat more plants than any other creatures. And lots of creatures want to eat them. So what's a caterpillar to do? 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. To defend themselves from predators, caterpillars have adopted numerous strategies, including being "cryptic."

"There is a paradigm that if you're brightly colored you are probably toxic or distasteful. But some of the most toxic caterpillars I've ever worked with, for example the clearwing butterflies, many caterpillars of the clearwing butterflies are just little green guys. They're really cryptic; they don't, you know, they don't have any red or black or any flashy colors on them. And they're extremely toxic. Something that's 'cryptic' blends in with the surroundings really well, and it can be visually cryptic, where you look just like your background whether you look like dead leaves when you tend to perch on dead leaves, or you look like a fresh leaf and you're always feeding on that fresh leaf. So you blend in really well. Or you could be behaviorally cryptic, where you don't move or you tend to mimic the movement of the things around you, so it's very difficult to see you."

We'll hear more about caterpillars in future programs.

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