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  • Lizzie is Science's Latin America correspondent, based in Mexico City.
 

Video: Jumping Cocoons Save Caterpillars’ Lives

20 August 2013 7:15 pm
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A cocooned caterpillar’s world may be small, but that doesn’t stop some of them from indulging their itch to travel. In the forests of Vietnam, the caterpillar of the Calindoea trifascialis moth prepares for its transformation by climbing a tree, wrapping itself in a bit of leaf, and sealing itself inside. Rather than staying put until it grows into its adult form, the larva wriggles around until its newly constructed home falls to the forest floor. Its journey doesn’t end there: Once on the ground, the caterpillar flexes its body in such a way that the leaf roll begins to hop, moving nearly 1 cm with each jump for up to 3 days (see video). By tracking the paths of dozens of leaf rolls, scientists observed that the bundled-up caterpillars consistently hopped away from intense light, a strategy that allowed them to find shade without needing to have a particular destination in mind, according to a study published today in Biology Letters. Although the traveling pupae do run the risk of attracting predators on the forest floor, their willingness to jump in the face of danger suggests that drying out in the sun poses the greater threat to the caterpillars as they wait to be reborn as moths.

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