Carnivorous Caterpillars

Carnivorous Caterpillars

When most people think of caterpillars they imagine those pudgy, soft insects that are pretty much benign and feed on plant material. However, there is one species out there that developed a taste for flesh and they have a sneaky way of getting their meals. One extremely rare group called the Miletinae will embed themselves into a group of tasty aphids, which ants protect in return for their honeydew, but go undetected munching away at the aphids due to a chemical they secrete that deceives the ants into thinking it is one of them. And so, the ants allow a wolf into their den of sheep without even knowing it. Sometimes these caterpillars will even invade the ants very nest, pretending to be one of them so that they can then be fed regurgitated food from those ants. They are definitely wolves in sheep’s clothing, hiding among the flock by dressing in a costume of white fleece. “I refer to this as a cloak of invisibility,” said David Lohman of City University of New York, US. “They eat aphids but the aphids’ own protective ants don’t attack them.” Interestingly, their odd dietary habits persist into adulthood. Most butterflies drink nectar, but the butterflies of these carnivorous caterpillars drink the honeydew secreted by aphids instead.

Did you know carnivorous caterpillars existed? What do you think of their clever disguising technique?

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Smithereen Pest Management provides IPM pest services to residential and commercial clients in Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri.
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