Home Animals When It Feels Threatened, This Caterpillar Transforms Into A Venomous Snake

When It Feels Threatened, This Caterpillar Transforms Into A Venomous Snake

The prize for finest invertebrate mimicry goes to Hemeroplanes triptolemus for its convincing poisonous snake imitation! The snake mimic caterpillar, a Sphingidae moth, transforms into a mediocre moth in its larval stage. Because without a strong defense mechanism, sphinx moth caterpillars are nothing more than energy-dense ‘nom-nuggets’ for the jungle’s predators.

Aptly known as the "snake mimic caterpillar", what you're looking at is the early life stage of a rather inconspicuous moth in the family Sphingidae.
Image Courtesy: YouTube/Andreas Kay

Instead, the larva swells and reveals its underside to resemble a snake’s head with black eyes and light reflections.

A convincing disguise transforms the hawk moth caterpillar into a small snake to ward off potential predators.
Image Courtesy: YouTube/Andreas Kay

But it’s not easy. The caterpillar starts its protective move by reversing and twisting its body, revealing its yellow, white, and black underside. Inhale via small openings on its sides (spiracles) and pump it to the front. After the segments are expanding, the caterpillar morphs into a poisonous snake with a diamond-shaped “face” and huge, black eyes.

If the “deadly” (and expensive) outfit isn’t enough to scare a predator, the caterpillar may also attack like a snake.

Named after the caterpillar's resemblance to an elephant's trunk, the elephant hawk-moth caterpillar interestingly transforms
Image Courtesy: YouTube/Andreas Kay

For whatever reason, the snake mimic caterpillar has a false face on the same end as the real one.

In order to achieve the unusual look of a venom slinging snake
Image Courtesy: YouTube/Andreas Kay

“Deflection may not function effectively for a caterpillar since an assailant may penetrate or pull off any section of its body,” says eyespot specialist Dr. Thomas Hossie. “This defense is used to scare or startle an assailant, so they flee (or fly) rather than risk a deadly snake encounter.”

Image Courtesy: YouTube/Andreas Kay

We also know of a moth that can disguise itself as a snake in its adult form, but this disguise costs a lot of energy.

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