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Tapping Caterpillars

Did you know that caterpillars are territorial? Learn about the "Tapping Caterpillars" on this Moment of Science.

Did you know that caterpillars are territorial?

Well, it turns out some are. In fact, what’s odd is that the hook-tip moth’s territorial behavior is much like that of many vertebrates, not what you’d expect in an organism like a caterpillar. These caterpillars find themselves a good leaf, and then they construct a nest of silk to protect them while they feast. When another caterpillar intrudes upon the resident caterpillar’s territory, the resident caterpillar stops eating, retreats into its nest, and it makes tapping noises by dragging or striking its mandibles against the leaf.

Often the intruder makes the sound as well and may end up attacking the resident’s nest by biting through some of the silk strands. Caterpillars don’t make this noise anywhere but in the nest, and scientists say this behavior suggests that the rivals are sizing each other up. They also suggest that the sounds may function to attract the attention of predators, in which case the intruder would be rather defenseless.

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