Photo-Essay: Missed Facts About the Caterpillar's Dung
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Photo-Essay: Missed Facts About the Caterpillar's Dung

A photo-essay on missed facts about the caterpillar.

Things become more interesting if told in both text and photos. This writing technique is called a photo-essay. This photo-essay on a caterpillar demonstrates this writing technique.

All pictures presented in this photo essay were taken using a Panasonic Lumix LX5 camera.

Interesting Stage of Development of the Butterfly

Seeing a caterpillar munching on the leaves of your well nurtured plant may be common thing around that you just ignore or take lightly. You might just get rid of the caterpillar in favor of your favorite plant. But looking closely at this mobile stage of development of the butterfly reveals interesting things and insights.

Take for example the extent of feeding area in the leaves and amount of biomass ingested by the caterpillar as it hurriedly strives to reach the right size before pupation. And do you know that a significant portion of the leaf biomass it ingests leaves its body in the form of round balls of excrement as if nothing happened to it? Just what did the catterpillar do with the massive amount of leaf it ate? Read more to find out.

The Brown Caterpillar

Take the case of the 7-cm brown caterpillar this author found on the leaves of gabi-gabi (Colocasia sp.) the other day. As in the other caterpillar he saw a few months back, the brown caterpillar looks like any other caterpillar he once wrote about. They are very much similar as the previous one has the same misleading "eyes" on its head portion (see below).

caterpillar head

The snakelike appearance deters predation by birds or natural predators of caterpillars. That's the first striking feature of the caterpillar that can make you pause and think if what you see is really a caterpillar, not a snake. This morphological feature serves to increase the chance of the species to successfully pass this stage of its life. As to how effective this defense mechanism is, this author found no answer. But the fact that it is still there despite the birds flying around the house and the lawn, this must be a good camouflage.

Balls of Dung

The first fact is quite easily noticed but how about the tiny balls of dung that it scatters around as it goes on its feeding spree? Do you know that this typical 7 centimeter, brown caterpillar can produce 62 balls of 5 mm dung in just four hours? And the whole leaf was almost consumed at end of the day! 

caterpillar eating leaf

How do these balls of dung look like at closer inspection? When these are freshly eliminated, they look like crumpled balls of green material as shown below.

balls of excrement of caterpillar

When pressed, the balls look like this:

flattened leaf balls

Notice that the leaf ball is unmistakably shredded leaf material in small pieces. It is still green and seemed not to have passed the digestive tract of the caterpillar. But if left to dry in the air, these balls of dung shrink and become hard balls almost half the size (3 mm) of the original. And the color changes into deep green.

hard balls

This means that the secretions of the caterpillar interact with the mass of leaves that were discharged from its body. These leaf balls in large quantities may in fact be good additions to enrich the soil. 

Looking closely at things around can reveal interesting facts like this one. So the next time you encounter an event or anything in your sight, look further and discover new things never before described.

And do you know that the proper name for caterpillar excrement or dung is "frass"?

©2011 August 2 Photo-Essay: Missed Facts About the Caterpillar

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Comments (7)

Interesting use of both images and text. Is it just me or do they look like Brussels sprouts?

An excellent photo-essay. Good info with great pics to match!

Educational piece Patrick, learning from the context itself, about the caterpillar and great pics combined surely made this photo essay amazing. GREAT job!

Thank you Michael, P. Guims, and Ron for your encouraging comments.

Good to know about photo-essay. Actually, I do not know about it till now and nice pics, Patrick.

Excellent work.

Totally original, and fascinating, great pictures.