I have always found that despite my love for science fiction, reality is much weirder than anything we dream up in books. Most of us think of caterpillars as fuzzy little eating machines that grow up to be something beautiful. What we don’t think of is caterpillars snatching fellow bugs up and devouring them head first.
The caterpillars, Eupithecia, were first found in Hawaii in the seventies by a researcher who accidentally spotted one actually catching and eating an insect. Since then they have a few other species in some far flung parts of the world such as Australia and more mundane locations like Denmark.
At first glance they look pretty normal, but looking closer reveals something straight out of a horror novel. The caterpillar has six legs at the front, but unlike a normal caterpillar these ones legs end in long sharp spines. The Hawaiian caterpillar will even chew down parts of the leaves so they can hide and blend in more easily, and then wait for their prey. When something comes too close they reach back and grab them with their clawed legs, holding their prey while they devour them alive.
I think these little guys have a lot of overlooked potential. I mean, there are tons of horror movies about giant spiders or killer scorpions but no one has ever done the flesh eating giant caterpillar before. Think of how much that would have added to B level horror movies like Mothra if we first got to see her as a pretty little caterpillar with giant claws that caught and devoured people. The perhaps it would have helped make that final showdown with Godzilla a bit more interesting. A caterpillar vampire film could be good fun, kind of like twilight but with carnivorous caterpillars and beetles instead.
Some pics of the Hawaiian ones can be found here: http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/good-bad/eupethecia.html. They are especially interesting since the species can be found in other parts of the world, but they don’t eat insects anywhere but Hawaii. I guess everything tastes better in on a tropical island. Movies of the Hawaiian caterpillar can be found at http://www.livescience.com/common/media/video/player.php?aid=36902.
For the more serious student check out “Carnivorous caterpillars: the behavior, biogeography and conservation of Eupithecia (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) in the Hawaiian Islands” by Steven Montgomery, Volume 7, number 6, pages 549-556.
In meantime I am going to go work on a scary costume for Halloween, I think this year I will dress up as a caterpillar………