There are at least 180,000 species of caterpillars worldwide, and scientists are still discovering more in remote areas. As such, they’re classified into various groups for easy identification. These categories include Hesperiidae, Papilionoideae, Pieridae, Riodinidae, Lycaenidae, and Nymphalidae. Besides their classifications, one can also identify caterpillars by their sizes, color, hair covering, markings, and horns. For instance, the caterpillars in the Lycaenidae family have blue and black coloration, while those in the Riodinidae family typically have metallic marks.
Did you know that the only thing a caterpillar does is eat and grow bigger before turning into a moth or butterfly? There are numerous facts to learn about caterpillars. However, in this article, we’ll focus on the interesting facts surrounding their poop. Let’s get started.
What Does Caterpillar Poop Look Like?
Like many other insect feces, we describe caterpillar poop as “frass.” Caterpillars defecate in the form of pellets which one may notice on the ground around them. Sometimes, however, the caterpillar may release them afar off as a protective mechanism against predators. Predators like wasps typically trail the smell of a caterpillar’s poop to find them.
However, some caterpillars poop in their homes. These caterpillars tend to expand their tents to move away from their built-up poop instead of shooting them as far away as possible. Examples of such caterpillars are tent caterpillars and leaf miners.
Since caterpillars eat a lot, it’s no surprise they also defecate a lot. A caterpillar’s frass contains undigested food materials as well as bacteria and fungi.
What Do Caterpillars Eat?
As herbivores, caterpillars primarily feed on plant parts, especially leaves. Their leaf diet satisfies their water needs as they don’t drink water. Besides leaves, some caterpillar species love to feast on flowers. They enjoy buds, petals, pollen, and seeds. One may also find some caterpillars eating feathers, hair, and fur. Many times, these are the caterpillars that live in human homes.
Some caterpillar species, especially wax moth caterpillars, invade and destroy hives to create room for laying their eggs. During this period, they make do with what they find in their environment. This means that they can eat honeycomb. Other food sources for caterpillars include grass, bark, twigs, and red ants.
Some caterpillars, especially the skin moth caterpillars, eat animal waste. They love to munch on dead animal skins, including guano, birds, mice, and owl pellets.
Although caterpillars are generally vegan, some species eat insects and may even make a meal from other caterpillars.
Do Leaf-eating Caterpillars Trick Plants With Their Poop?
Caterpillars that feed on corn leaves have developed smart methods of getting the most nutrients from their meals. According to some scientists at Pennsylvania State University, they do this by tricking the plants with their poop.
The chemical signals from their poop deceive plants into believing they are suffering from a fungal infection instead of an insect attack. Note that corn plants have two defense lines—one attacks insect pests and the other targets fungal infections. Unfortunately, they can’t use the two of them at a time. Since corn plants can’t effectively handle several attacks at once, they’ll focus all their attention on fighting this perceived fungal infection.
This allows the caterpillars to feast on the leaves without interference. A perfect example of caterpillars that have successfully mastered this technique is the armyworm.
Without this smart strategy, caterpillars will have difficulty getting enough nutrients from the corn plants. That’s because the plant will quickly recognize the insect “attack” through their secretions and try to defend itself by releasing a biochemical that repels them.
Is Caterpillar Poop Dangerous?
There’s hardly enough evidence to determine if caterpillar poop is dangerous to humans. However, humans must be careful when approaching areas that they’ve fed on, as they can come in contact with human pathogens in the process.
What’s Caterpillar Poop Good For?
When it comes to manure, caterpillar poop is likely not to be a farmer’s first choice. The reason for this is obvious—caterpillar feces is too small. However, caterpillar droppings can serve as good nutrient sources for plants. There are also reports that caterpillar poop may be useful as pesticides.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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