Monday, August 3, 2015

On the safe side

When feeding in a large group, caterpillars may be more noticeable to predators -- but they may also be better able to defend themselves.  Groups of tent caterpillars and webworms can consist of hundreds of individuals, which makes them easily spotted (and probably smelled) even from a distance. To thwart their many enemies, these caterpillars surround themselves and their feeding zones with a protective netting of silk.

A nest of fall webworms (Hyphantria cunea) on a mulberry branch.
The caterpillars then proceed to devour nearly everything within their tightly woven nest.  As they move along a branch, all that they leave behind are leaf skeletons wrapped in silk.

The larvae can completely skeletonize large leaves.
Meanwhile, any predators that locate the caterpillars are likely to depart without obtaining a meal. Watch a wasp get foiled by the silk enclosure in the video below: