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The strange caterpillar uses its old heads to make an elaborate hat

Get to know the mad hatter column, the invertebrate that holds its old moulting heads attached to its body to create a beautifully bizarre headpiece


June 24, 2020

By Gege Li

Alan Henderson / Cover Pictures

Alan Henderson

THIS caterpillar has a unique head piece: each ball is one of its old moulting heads, which are precariously stacked on top of each other.


As the caterpillar of the Uraba lugens grows, it throws off its exoskeleton – but instead of getting rid of the previous section of the head, it sticks to its body to create a bizarre "hat".

This earned him the nickname "Mad Hatterpillar" after the "Mad Hatter" in "Alice & # 39; s Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll. U. lugens was found in Australia and New Zealand and is also known as a rubber sheet skeletonizer because the caterpillars tend to tear eucalyptus leaves down into their veins.

U. lugens molted up to 13 times in its caterpillar phase, with the tower of the heads being built from the fourth moult. When the caterpillar grows, every empty head is bigger than the last one.

However, the headpiece is not just on display. "The function is to protect them from predators – they use them to kill predators," says photographer Alan Henderson of Minibeast Wildlife, an invertebrate resource center in Queensland, Australia. The “hat” is likely to increase the caterpillars' chances of survival by increasing the length of time predators need to get a clear shot, he says.

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