What is this bizarre animal? (Hint: don’t eat it with drawn butter)

March 25, 2015 • 2:00 pm

Matthew Cobb called my attention to this creature which was featured on Butterfly Conservation. Here’s a photo (from itchydogimages):

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And here’s a video:

It’s the caterpillar of the lobster moth (Stauropus fagi), which lives throughout the world in the Northern Hemisphere. Here’s the adult, which is cute, fuzzy, and rests with the hindwings sticking out way beyond the forewings:

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22 thoughts on “What is this bizarre animal? (Hint: don’t eat it with drawn butter)

  1. Extraordinarily long legs (true legs) for a caterpillar – amongst various extraordinary aspects of this wonderful beast!

  2. Those legs and the weird head look as though it’s trying to mimic a spider to me. What the point of the “antennae” on the rear are I’m not so sure, unless it’s just to confuse its predators so they go and find something else to eat.

  3. Here is a delightful quote mentioning the lobster moth caterpillar by Vladimir Nabokov, novelist and entomologist, I lifted from an article (‘Nabokov, Teleology, and Insect Mimicry’, 2011) by Victoria Alexander:
    Writes Nabokov, “The mysteries of mimicry had a special attraction for me. Its phenomena showed an artistic perfection usually associated with manwrought things. Consider the imitation of oozing poison by bubblelike macules on a wing (complete with pseudo-refraction) or by glossy yellow knobs on a chrysalis (“Don’t eat me – I have already been squashed, sampled and rejected”). Consider the tricks of an acrobatic caterpillar (of the Lobster Moth) which in infancy looks like bird’s dung, but after moulting develops scrabbly hymenopteroid appendages and baroque characteristics, allowing the extraordinary fellow to play two parts at once … that of a writhing larva and that of a big ant seemingly harrowing it. When a certain moth resembles a certain wasp in shape and color, it also walks and moves its antennae in a waspish, unmothlike manner. When a butterfly has to look like a leaf, not only are all the details of a leaf beautifully rendered but markings mimicking grubbored holes are generously thrown in. “Natural selection,” in the Darwinian sense, could not explain the miraculous coincidence of imitative aspect and imitative behavior, nor could one appeal to the theory of “the struggle for life” when a protective device was carried to a point of mimetic subtlety, exuberance, and luxury far in excess of a predator’s power of appreciation. I discovered in nature the non-utilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception.” (Nabokov’s Butterflies 85-86) Near the end we witness Nabokov committing the fallacy of personal incredulity (appeal to common sense) to reject natural selection because protective perfection is, in Nabokov’s view, “far in excess of a predator’s power of appreciation.” Even if you can’t agree with his science, the prose is spellbinding.

    1. Everything Nabokov writes is spell-binding. I believe I have this Butterflies book as yet unread. Must move it up the piles…

    2. I always admired his writing. How disappointing to learn that he does not understand the power of selection. With population sizes as large as they usually are for insects, even very tiny selection coefficients are adequate to drive subtle genes to fixation.

        1. Proof if any were needed that moths are not just boring and brown as some unenlightened people seem to suppose!

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