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Old Jun 5, 2007, 6:22 PM   #1
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(These were all shot with the K100D, using a Pentax 50mm A 1.7 stacked on a Vivitar 2x Macro Teleconverter and an old external flash.)


I found a small pine tree that had clusters of these caterpillars on some of it's branches:










They exhibited an odd behavior whereby the entire group of them would simultaneously curl up backwards, then settle back down. They would do this every few seconds. It gave the impression of an octopus flexing.










Here's a rough animation that somewhat illustrates what they were doing:



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Old Jun 5, 2007, 7:14 PM   #2
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nice shots corpse but ----yuk

roy
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Old Jun 5, 2007, 11:30 PM   #3
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That's really interesting. And while I think spiders and ants are "yuck" no matter how good the picture, I think these are really interesting.The pictures are excellent, too.
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Old Jun 5, 2007, 11:46 PM   #4
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Nice pictures, thanks for sharing.

Fred
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Old Jun 6, 2007, 12:43 AM   #5
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Weird and wonderful, well taken.
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Old Jun 6, 2007, 1:51 AM   #6
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Thanks for the replies. Normally I find caterpillars and inchworms rather cute:








But I have to agree with Roy, these are nasty. I should go back and get some video and then maybe you could really see how creepy they are. Seeing them all moving in unison like that as if they were a single organism, it just seems alien.
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Old Jun 6, 2007, 7:21 AM   #7
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Excellent series of shots, corpsy. So often we don't notice some of the most interesting behaviors because they occur at a level at which we don't normally look, or they involve creatures we don't consider attractive. Have you done any digging to find out why they are exhibiting this behavior?
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Old Jun 6, 2007, 1:36 PM   #8
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These are really great, and you did a good job documenting the behavior.

That effort deserves a proper response (and I am better with birds than bugs), soI checked with a colleague of mine who studies caterpillar behavior, and, believe it or not, they are not caterpillars (which become butterfliesor moths)! They are sawfly larvae (a wasp relative), which are gregarious, and are believed to use this behavior as a defense against threatening predators - they even sometimes spit their intestinal contents, so don't get your lens too close!! My guess is that the sudden movement probably startles the predator and the synchronized movement makes the group look like one larger, even threateningorganism, better left alone. A really neat adaptation, don't you think?

(Ifirst posted this onyour Wildlife Photo entry, but more people are looking here)


Here is a link to a University of California image of the Pine Sawfly, probably an earlier instar (larval stage) than these:

http://biology.clc.uc.edu/graphics/t...y%20Larvae.jpg
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Old Jun 6, 2007, 10:05 PM   #9
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How interesting! Thanks for looking into it and posting what is going on. One of the things I love about this board is I'm constantly learning things, and often about subjects that have nothing to do with photography.
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Old Jun 6, 2007, 10:13 PM   #10
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Thanks Penolta, that was a lot of information, and some pretty useful for the next time I shoot these. I can understand the defense mechanism thing, but what I still don't understand is exactly how they are able to be in such perfect sync. It's not like one or two would stand up and then a few more and then the rest... it's always the entire group at the exact same time.

Anyway, I appreciate you finding that stuff out for me, I knew it would be easier to find out here than to do my own research. :-)
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