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Butterfly Q & A

How do caterpillars defend themselves?

Caterpillars or larvae are generally plump, slow moving creatures that represent an inviting meal for many predators. To protect themselves, caterpillars employ a variety of different strategies. Many, like the Zebra Longwing or Pipevine Swallowtail, sequester specific chemicals from their host plants that render them highly distasteful or toxic. These caterpillars are generally brightly colored to advertise their unpalatability. Others rely on deception or camouflage to avoid being eaten. Palamedes Swallowtail larvae have large, conspicuous false eyes on an enlarged thorax that help them resemble a small snake or lizard. By contrast, larvae of the Georgia Satyr are solid green and extremely well camouflaged against the green leaves of their host. Some larvae conceal their whereabouts by constructing shelters. American Painted Lady larvae weave leaves and flowerheads together with silk and rest safely inside when not actively feeding. Still others have formidable spines and hairs or produce irritating or foul smelling chemicals to deter persistent predators.


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