Cool Things I Found While Looking Around: A Fascinating Look at Caterpillars

I had no idea caterpillars are such versatile little creatures. I also had no idea caterpillars could look like this:

glf-caterpillar-spbushst-07

A user named, Ansel Ate Gretel, posted the following information in the March for Science Facebook group. With his permission, I’m sharing his post below.

I figured people here would enjoy this scientifically informative photo from my summer which I took with a lot of planning and timing.

It depicts four native Northeastern swallowtail caterpillars side by side for comparison. A family portrait of evolutionary relatives, if you will. From left to right: the Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor), Eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), and spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus).

IMG_3330
Credit: Ansel Ate Gretel

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Both the Eastern tiger and spicebush swallowtail caterpillars are thought to mimic snakes to deter predators. The Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar is thought to have aposematic coloration or a color combo that warns predators that it is poisonous. The pipevine swallowtail (in dark maroon) feeds on the toxic pipevines, which in turn makes it unpalatable to birds- a trait that it carries over into its butterfly life.

The amazing thing is that all the adults of these four species participate in a Batesian mimicry complex in which the Eastern tiger, Eastern black, and spicebush swallowtail butterflies can mimic the poisonous pipevine swallowtail to avoid being eaten!

To read more about the swallowtail butterfly, click here.

Here are more photos of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. It’s really worth a look.

Photos of the Pipevine Swallowtail

Photos of the Eastern Black Swallowtail

Photos of the Spicebush Swallowtail

Like I said, I’m a novice when it comes to caterpillars so I don’t have anything to add other than: Wow, those are really cool.

 

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