- News Home
5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
Attack of the Caterpillars
21 July 2005 (All day)
Most caterpillars are docile vegetarians, content to while away their days munching leaves. But a new study has found a glaring exception to this rule: a Hawaiian caterpillar that ensnares snails in spiderlike webs of silk before devouring their flesh.
Hawaii is full of oddball insects. Scientists attribute this to the island's remoteness--it's the most isolated landmass on Earth. Some of the more bizarre finds include the oxymoronic flightless fly and the spearing spider that uses enlarged claws to impale prey. Now joining these ranks is the Hyposomocoma molluscivora, a snail-stalking caterpillar that reaches up to 10 millimeters in length.
Like other caterpillars, Hyposomocoma appeared to have some camouflage attached to its body. But these decorations were unusual: fragments of snail shells. So Daniel Rubinoff, an entomologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, took a few back to the lab. Oddly, the caterpillars shunned usual food. When the team tried to feed them carrots, the insects starved to death. Then the researchers thought about the shell attachments. When offered live snails, the caterpillars dug in. Rubinoff was incredulous: It was like "discovering a wolf diving for clams," he says.
And the oddities didn't end there. The caterpillars turned out to be talented hunters. The researchers observed them spinning webs of silk that trapped snails against leaves--a behavior not seen in any other caterpillar species. "I have hundreds of pictures because I just couldn't believe it," says Rubinoff, whose team reports its discovery 22 July in Science.
"I have been watching caterpillars for a long time, and this finding is quite novel," says Steven Montgomery, an entomologist in Hawaii who more than 2 decades ago reported the first predatory caterpillar--a species that fed on other insects. The next step will be studying Hyposomocoma's close relatives to see when and how these behaviors evolved, adds Rosemary Gillespie, an entomologist at the University of California, Berkeley.