A caterpillar is the larva of a butterfly or moth. After around 2-3 weeks, a caterpillar builds itself into a cocoon where it remains a pupa for a further 2 weeks. The caterpillar then emerges as a butterfly having grown wings (a process known as metamorphosis).
Like all insects, caterpillars have three body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen. They also have a hard, outer covering called an exoskeleton.
Caterpillars have one role in life and that is to eat! They start off very small and can increase their body mass by over 1000 times. A caterpillar must eat enough to sustain itself through its pupal stage and to have the energy to complete its metamorphosis into a butterfly.
There are around 180,000 species of caterpillar and they vary massively in appearance. Some are camouflaged and others are brightly coloured to scare off predators such as birds or wasps.
Most caterpillars are herbivores, which means they only eat plants, however, some species of caterpillars will eat other insects or insect eggs.
Most species of caterpillar are considered to be agricultural pests as they can munch their way through fields of crops. The moth caterpillar also causes problems in the fabric industry, and one species of caterpillar (known in China as a silkworm) has destroyed large amounts of silk in the far east.
Some Interesting Facts
- A caterpillar has around 4000 muscles in its body compared to 629 in a human.
- Caterpillars have six pairs of eyes! These eyes cannot see images but can detect light intensity.
- A caterpillar breathes through small holes on the sides of its body called spiracles, instead of through its mouth (which is just used for eating!).