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How a caterpillar becomes a butterfly: Metamorphosis, explained

National Geographic

The chrysalis of a tiger clearwing butterfly hangs at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans. Butterflies are perhaps most famous for the process by which a plump little caterpillar transforms into a winged work of art. But they're not unique in going through this drastic life change, called complete metamorphosis, or holometabolism. A whopping 75 percent of known insects--among them bees, beetles, flies, and moths--develop in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Most striking about complete metamorphosis is how different the larva looks and behaves from the adult.


Scientists drive caterpillars to cannibalism

Daily Mail - Science & tech

Eating your friend to stay alive may seem like a desperate measure, but a new study has found that it only takes a terrible tasting tomato to turn a caterpillar cannibal. Scientists simulated a protective response to plant pests by tomatoes, which causes them to produce a chemical that turns their taste sour. They found that the higher the concentration of the organic compound, the faster the caterpillars would begin to consume their comrades. The result demonstrates a previously unknown effect of plants' defensive mechanisms, say the researchers. Eating your friend to stay alive may seem like a desperate measure, but a new study has found that it only takes a terrible tasting tomato to turn a caterpillar cannibal.


Go, Baby! These Animal Babies Grow Up Without Any Help from Parents

National Geographic

An Australian brush-turkey, Alectura lathami,--one of several types of birds called megapodes--at Sylvan Heights Bird Park in North Carolina. We all need a push once in a while--but hopefully it's not a literal one. WAQ reader Hannah wrote in asking, "Do mother birds push their babies out of the nest?" Daniel Roby, an ornithologist at Oregon State University, says he's never seen such behavior or documentation of it, though in some bird species, "parents call to their young in the nest to coax them into leaving when it's time to do so." Hannah's question made us wonder: What brave offspring do get pushed out into the world before they feel they're ready?


Real-life 'Very Hungry Caterpillar' head-butts food rivals out the way

Daily Mail - Science & tech

A species of caterpillar gets'hangry' – a cross between hungry and angry – when food is scarce, a new study reveals. Monarch butterfly caterpillars (danaus plexippus) become aggressive fighters in their quest to eat milkweed – a herbaceous plant that's toxic to most animals and their favourite food. US researchers found that monarch caterpillars with less access to milkweed were more likely to lunge at others to knock them aside. Caterpillars were most aggressive during the final all-important stages before metamorphosis – the transformation into an exquisite butterfly. A lack of nutrition during these larval stages can delay development as well as reduce body size, reproductive performance and lifespan after metamorphosis.


'Eerie' tree in Yorkshire covered in giant web created by caterpillars

Daily Mail - Science & tech

An eerie tree in Yorkshire has been swamped by a giant web spun by thousands of caterpillars in a scene that looks like something out of a horror movie. Photos of the creepy plant near a small village in the Yorkshire Dales were snapped by police officer Rich Sutcliffe, who said the tree was so infested with moth larvae it appeared to be'moving'. It can take moth larvae days to build the enormous silk cocoons, which they typically construct over food sources to protect themselves from predators, such as birds, wasps and spiders. Posting on Twitter, PC Sutcliffe, who was on duty when he stumbled across the tree, wrote: 'I've seen some mysterious sights at work but this took me by surprise today. 'The entire tree was moving with caterpillars,' he said.