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These caterpillars certainly know the benefit of strength in numbers. A Thailand resident snagged a video of hundreds of caterpillars ganging up together to form a “creepy-crawly” situation.
The result of this strange insect behavior is a well-organized mega group of caterpillars that looks like it could literally destroy anything in its path.
It’s also totally icky all around, as they travel together in their tight pack, leaving behind a slime trail. If you can stomach it, it’s interesting to watch and see how they all gather up in a huge mass and move together as one totally in sync unit.
Comments on the YouTube video ranged from jokey, such as: “’They’ll never see us coming!’,” to amazed with “Cool!,” to outright repulsed, with comments such as “so disgusted” and “burn it!”
In a 2013 article from Wired.com, they examined why caterpillars move in this fashion, with the YouTube video series Smarter Every Day exploring the idea that the caterpillars move this way to get a speed boost. Using a clever Lego experiment, they were able to better explain the phenomenon, which is very science-y and quite fascinating.
In the YouTube video, they look for answers, explaining in the video description: “While in the Rainforest we discovered a ‘Caterpillar Turbo Mode’ How much faster can a group of caterpillars travel than an individual caterpillar on the same course?”
Discussion in the comments section of the experiment video had plenty of people looking for more answers, with one person summing it up, writing: “Basically the top caterpillars are moving at the same time the bottom ones are…so while on top, they have the speed of themselves moving, and the speed of the caterpillar below them…this means the caterpillars on top are always moving faster and eventually reach the front, then becoming the ones that get walked over. The bottom back caterpillar gets freed up to climb on top. It’s almost like a wheel.”
Another commenter posed this theory, however: “1) The caterpillars stop for a while every time they move, so they aren’t as fast as a single caterpillar moving the entire time. 2) Caterpillars aren’t Legos, the different levels are intertwined, some of them even move backwards.”
They added: “To me this just looks like a tactic to look like a larger creature to predators while they move about. There’s no real efficiency in anything. When a bird sees a caterpillar – moving or not – it knows it’s a caterpillar; But when a bird sees this thing in the video it’s not going to see it as something it can easily swallow.”
Another commenter noted: “I am skeptical. I don’t think this is energy efficient and I’m not sure this is faster given how often they stop. I am far more confident that this is a safety strategy. Perhaps this looks intimidating to predators or is too confusing/scary.”
Still another person made a similar observation, writing: “I think they’re doing this do distract predators, such as birds. If they move in a group, they doesn’t seem like a typical prey. You know, like worm shape. And I think they stop from time to time to don’t get high attention as well.”
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