Secrets of Finding Caterpillars
GG: “You look at enough caterpillars, you’ll figure out the secrets of the universe, I promise you.”
JM: They’re probably the largest consumers of vegetation in the world. So you think they’d be easy to spot, right? Well, no. Today we’ll learn some of the secrets of finding caterpillars. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Grant Gentry is a tropical ecologist based at Samford University. He’s working with a team of Earthwatch volunteers in Costa Rica, looking for caterpillars in the rain.
GG: “You’re gonna look for damage and then you’re gonna look for the caterpillar. Or if you see, I usually like to look at young leaves, so if you see, like, half the leaf eaten away, another good thing to look for, it’s another good sign there’s a sphingid a sphinx moth, horn worm, hawk moth, those are all synonyms, like tomato hornworm, it’s a big garden pest. The other thing you want to look for is how recent the damage is. So if you look at this, the veins here, they’ve already turned brown on this leaf. And if the edges are brown also, that’s old; that party’s over. You missed it. Very often they’ll eat and run. So when you see something, when you think something big is on the plant, you want to look under the leaf, of course, that’s damaged. And then you want to look at some leaves around it. And then I would suggest looking along the stems, and along the trunk, and particularly, but carefully, down around the base of the tree or even on the stem of an adjacent plant. And very often, you’ll find them hiding down there, particularly during the day. And they like to come out at dusk, when predators just don’t see so well, right about now.”
JM: We’ll hear more on caterpillars in future programs. You can hear this and previous programs on our podcast. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.