PARIS – The larva of a Vietnamese moth has devised a unique form of transport — constructing a leaf cone and thrashing about inside to make it jump, a recent study showed.
Even more remarkably, the tiny caterpillar manages to steer its leafy vehicle in a clear direction along the forest floor — but always away from the sun, Canadian scientists wrote in the journal Biology Letters, published by Britain’s Royal Society, on Aug. 21. The team believes the creature is in pursuit of shade. Dehydration seems to pose a bigger death risk even than ant predators on the ground.
“We believe the largest risk the insect faces is from overheating and drying out, so it would be beneficial to find a cool, shady place to be,” Kim Humphreys from the Royal Ontario Museum’s Department of Natural History said.
The caterpillar of the moth Calindoea trifascialis wraps itself in a leaf cone about two weeks after hatching from an egg.
The cone, which protects the creature for about another two weeks until it emerges as a moth, falls to the ground and starts hopping around — presumably looking for a safe spot.
“They jump about one jump per second, and about three-quarters of 1 cm per jump. They are not fast or high jumpers,” Humphreys said. ” They jump for usually three days, usually during the daytime only.” Such acrobatics by larvae is not unknown — there is the well-known example of the Mexican “jumping bean,” which is in fact a seed pod with a larva hopping about inside. But the caterpillar is unique in that it builds its own vehicle and uses a novel propulsion method.