On this Moment of Science, we’ll discuss how caterpillars fool ants into feeding them.
Did you know that ants are the recipients of a lot of pranks in the insect world. The particular hoax I have in mind, though, involves caterpillar larvae that fool ants into feeding and caring for them. When the larvae are approximately the same size as ant larvae they fall to the ground, and worker ants come along to pick them up and take them home with them.
Then for eleven months or more, the ant nursemaids regurgitate as much food as the caterpillars require, until the caterpillars grow many times larger than the ant larvae sharing the same nursery. The ants never do pick up on the fact that they are being tricked. They take the caterpillar in and care for it because of its smell. This particular caterpillar mimics the chemical “scent” of ants, fooling ants into thinking that the caterpillar is one of their own.