Having decimated one clump of tall grass, he was en route to the next when I spotted him on the lip of a plant pot. He was obviously not best pleased at being spotted and decided on the ‘stay still and pretend you aren’t here’ mode of defence. Perfect for taking his picture. Not such a wise move if I had actually been wanting to eat him. Although, in fairness, he would have had the last laugh.
It turns out these hairy little fellas, the White Tussocked Moth caterpillar, are tougher than they look. Those fluffy looking hairs are actually irritating bristles, which have detachable tips. Entering the skin, eyes or mucous membranes by touch or inhalation, they can cause quite nasty rashes and contact dermatitis. Not pleasant. I should have known really. One of the golden rules for scuba divers? If it is particularly pretty, unusually ugly or doesn’t dash off, don’t touch it. The same rule applies above water too, evidently.
Although the White Tussocked Moth caterpillars might be surprisingly well defended, they are nowhere near the big league, as far as deceptively dangerous caterpillars go. The Giant Silkworm Moth caterpillar delivers an anti-coagulant venom so concentrated that it can actually cause haemorrhaging and renal failure serious enough to kill a person. And people really do die from this every year. On the flip side, scientists are exploring the medical potential of this anti-coagulant. It always amazes me how nature contrives to cram such complex and unexpected potential in something as seemingly simple as one tiny caterpillar.
A South East Asian Moth, I spotted this one relaxing on a sunny Balinese morning. With a wingspan wider than your hand span at full stretch, I very nearly couldn’t fit the full beauty of this moth into the frame. But despite her size, she is a gentle giant compared to some of her smaller relations. Her biggest defence is using her markings on her forewings which look much like the head of a tree snake. Fluttering her wings to mimic a snake on the move keeps her safe. Most of the time. For those still willing to try a nibble, the stiff hairs on her body also act as an irritant to many predators.
Meanwhile, the Atlas Moth caterpillars are just your run of the mill, harmless eating machines. Even if they are rather over-sized! Less undercover-killer caterpillar, more ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’. Now that’s my kind of photography subject…potentially deadly is so over-rated! Well worth a look, but I will definitely think twice before I get up close and personal to a hairy, brightly coloured caterpillar with my macro lens next time.