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Old Jun 5, 2007, 5:19 PM   #1
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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 6, 2007, 12:31 PM   #2
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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?


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, 3:25 PM   #3
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interesting behavior. i'm glad i don't those buggers in my backyard. haha.

- hung
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Old Jun 6, 2007, 11:43 PM   #4
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Great clarity and DOF in your shots. Well done. Fascinating little dance they've got goin' there. Some kind of two step I guess.
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Old Jun 7, 2007, 2:12 PM   #5
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Thanks for the responses! Penolta, appreciate the info!
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Old Jun 8, 2007, 10:50 PM   #6
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Neat explanation, Penolta.

Corpsy, that's a heckuva series of photos, but you did too well - I am totally revolted! :shock:
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