Watch this tentacled creature spring into action—and find out
what scientists think is up with the weird burst of movement.
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Published June 12, 2015
Deep in Peru's Amazon rain forest, an odd-looking caterpillar is doing its best to look like just another twig. Suddenly people approach. Sensing vibrations from the group's voices, the caterpillar unleashes a surprising move. Boing! Four tentacles spring from its back, then slowly recoil.
"It was super-bizarre," says Aaron Pomerantz, an entomologist (or bug scientist) working with an ecotourism company called Rainforest Expeditions. After climbing 100 feet (30 meters) to the top of a canopy tower while on a group outing, he found the caterpillar—thought to be the larva of a horned spanworm moth—on a tree. Pomerantz was so amused by the creature's response that he recorded a video of the spectacular display. Although Pomerantz isn’t the first to witness this kind of behavior, he could be the first to have caught it on camera.
So why did the caterpillar react this way? Scientists think the erupting tentacles are probably used for defense—but they aren't sure how it deters predators or parasites. It's possible that the tentacles' white tips direct attention away from the rest of the caterpillar's body, says Andrei Sourakov, collections coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He and others think the caterpillar detects approaching dangers using a set of vibration-sensitive hairs on the tips of its tentacles.
The truth is, not much is known about the caterpillar or its behavior—or how many other caterpillars might be similarly spring-loaded. But that just makes it easier for these mysterious animals to surprise their unsuspecting visitors!
Text from "Watch: Bizarre Caterpillar With Erupting Tentacles Filmed" by Nadia Drake for National Geographic News
Adapted by Rose Davidson, NGS Staff