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A Sea Slug Out of Water?

This jewel caterpillar might look like something that belongs on the ocean floor, but it is a purely terrestrial creature. Scuba instructor and amateur wildlife photographer Gerardo Aizpuru captured these amazing photos of a lovely and strange caterpillar. Within hours of uploading them, they spread around the net and were identified as an Acraga coa larva.

The Acraga coa are part of a group of moths known as Dalceridae, all of which have gooey-looking caterpillars like the one above. While researchers still aren't sure about the benefits this adaptation offers the moth larvae, they do know that despite their often vivid coloring, most of the insects are not poisonous. The squishy, clear spikes on the outside of the creature's body might help them escape from predators though by leaving potential predators with a mouthful of sticky, foul-tasting goop.

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Animals
How to Identify Insects Just By Looking at Their Mouths
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Most of us learned how to tell arachnids and insects apart in elementary school, but classifying insects into their different orders based on looks alone is a little trickier. If you want to look at insects like an entomologist does, though, there’s one body part in particular you should focus on. According to a TED-Ed lesson by Anika Hazra, identifying the type of mouth an insect has can tell you a lot about what group it belongs to, what it eats, and how it evolved.

There are five main types of mouthparts insects can have, the most common of which is the chewing mouthpart. These mouths are characterized by large, serrated mandibles made for grinding up plants and prey. Believed to be the most primitive type of insect mouth still around today, you can see the chewing mouthpart on insects like ants and grasshoppers.

Other insect mouthparts include the pierce-sucking type, which is used by bedbugs and mosquitos to suck blood; the siphoning mouthpart, the curly, straw-like mouths that butterflies have; the sponging mouthpart, which helps flies sop up fluids; and the chewing-lapping mouthpart, which enables bees to build their hives as well as eat.

It’s important for scientists studying bugs to be able to recognize the diverse mouths of insects. It’s also a useful skill if you’re just a casual bug enthusiast. For illustrations of all the different mouthparts, check out the video from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Watch a Caterpillar Hatch From an Egg the Size of a Pinhead
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© THIRTEEN Productions LLC

The transformation from caterpillar to winged insect tends to get all the attention when it comes to the butterfly's life cycle, but if this video from Nature on PBS is any indication, the very beginning of the caterpillar's life is just as interesting as its time in the chrysalis.

Painted lady butterflies lay vibrant aqua-colored eggs that are as small as a pinhead. The adult butterflies lay clusters of these tiny eggs in the crevices of leaf veins, using a special glue to keep them stuck to the plant no matter what the angle. The caterpillars that emerge a few days later are as small as a grain of rice, and compared to their bodies, the leaf hairs they have to crawl over and around are as big as trees.

Eventually, of course, as The Very Hungry Caterpillar taught us, small as they might seem, those teensy bugs will soon chomp their way through the leaves that once seemed so giant in comparison, then pupate, emerge as butterflies, and start the process all over again. See the eggs hatch for yourself in the video below. Nature: Sex, Lies and Butterflies premieres on April 4.

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