Meet the Chrome Caterpillars

While some caterpillars look like snakes or inflate when yelled at, there is a caterpillar hidden deep in the rainforests of South America that uses a strange escape tactic. In order to avoid being eaten, this creature rides a shiny, chrome vehicle.Β  Incubating in this mirrored palace is Mechanitis polymnia, an orange-spotted tiger clearwing. The animal is not vulnerable to predation due to such flashy dwellings, though.

A butterfly is an easy target, since it is a defenceless protein sausage that is too busy scrambling and rearranging its insides to protect its young from predators. In nature, they are actually very difficult to see, given how all the colours are reflected,” explains Dr Keith Willmott.

This tactic works well and is shared by several other groups, such as milkweed butterflies (genus Danaidae) and Tithorea butterflies. These structures do not contain metal particles; they are made from chitin, the same substance that gives jewel beetles their shine and turns the sea mouse into a rainbow-coloured lamp.

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