The very hungry (and carnivorous) caterpillar

At first, you might think the weirdest thing about this little caterpillar is its body—long and skinny, with a patch of legs at the front and a patch at the back, it does a lot of rearing up and strategically falling onto things. That last bit becomes important later.

See, this little Hawaiian caterpillar is a killer.

The Carnivorous Caterpillar is a product of island evolution, which is, itself, a pretty weird phenomenon. For instance, a study published in PLoS Biology in October of 2006 found that mammal populations on islands can change their physical appearance and structure at a rate as much as 3.1 times greater than that of mainland mammals.

Islands breed both unusual caterpillars and fast-evolving mammals thanks to a combination of isolated populations—through which mutations can more easily spread—fierce competition for limited resources, and the odd interactions that happen between species of plants and animals that are all experiencing the same sort of pressures. After all, the ecological niche—what you eat, where you live, who eats you—a species inhabited on the mainland might not exist the same way on an island. And it's likely to change relatively rapidly, along with resources and the spread of useful mutations. Over hundreds or thousands of years, an island species can come to look and act very differently from its mainland cousins.

This video is part of Life Is—A new website that brings together tons of clips from BBC nature documentaries and arranges them in a procrastination-friendly browsing menu. You can search for videos by climate, geography, even predominant color scheme—so a passing fancy for a carnivorous caterpillar could lead you to pig-nosed turtles, Chinese rice fields and whistling rats.


  1. It’s amazing to me how often real live creatures pop up that look even weirder and more dramatic then the latest generation of fantasy horror creatures. It just happens at the micro level. I even notice this when staring at an insect on a flower through a macro camera lens.

  2. First thing that popped into my head about this is R-Type, both the biological/ecological term AND the game (specifically the RX-12 from Final). How Odd.

  3. can someone answer something for me? the sound in this video is foley right? or is there a super-sensitive microphone that can actually hear bugs eating?

  4. mammal populations on islands can change their physical appearance and structure at a rate as much as 3.1 times greater than that of mainland mammals.

    Well, that would explain the Brits, the Japanese and the Kiwis.

    I want a windup bank where this caterpillar pops up and hauls the coin into the box.

    It looks terribly like a hand popping up to grab something. So all we need is one more mutation to get a two-headed version and we’ll have opposing thumbs and be ready for tool-making.

  5. Caterpillars, maggots, and grubs of all sorts are basically insect larvae. So when an adult of the species sees one, do they say: Awww how cute! I could just eat you up? Such are the things I ponder.

  6. As many caterpillars as I’ve played with or seen on video, I’d have never guessed there’d be one that does something like this! Fascinating as hell!

  7. So is that “creeeeak…snap!” noise genuine, or foley? I’ve often wondered that about nature documentaries.

  8. Bullwhip Inchworm of DEATH!!! Serrated scissor mouth and deadly needle tipped feets: “*sproing*, bitches! Death from above: you metamorphosized punk flies can’t see me!”

    I am too amused by this little critter. . .thanks!

    (Does anyone remember a nature show (I saw it maybe 14 years ago) about bees/wasps? Specifically a Japanese wasp that took over other wasps nests or something like that. . .and the larvae were all corpulent and gelatinous with huge goddamn mandibles chompchompchomping away?)

    I’d love to see that one again; ranks right up there with Lions vs. Hyenas. . .

  9. Foley foley foley — the BBC is obsessed by it. “Life”, the last major BBC natural history series, was full of fake sound effects and it distracted from some of the incredible HD footage.

  10. Cool stuff. I didn’t realize until now that HD Docs have been a little tainted for me. (Don’t read this next bit if you love documentaries and don’t want to ruin the illusion)

    I was working with a group producing IMAX films, and after they mentioned how loud and annoying the cameras are for IMAX and other HD formats, I asked how they manage to capture all that amazing sound.

    Turns out, they usually don’t. It’s all added in post, rarely from the actual subject. Those cool sounds the caterpillar makes while stretching to the prey are probably fake.

  11. OMG! Can that really be… STEVE COOGAN replacing David Attenborough as the voice of BBC Nature shows?

    You’ve come a long way from Paul & Pauline Calf, Steve! Alan Partridge, Aha! should interview you!

  12. These aren’t the only carnivorous caterpillars out there; harvester butterfly caterpillars are pretty common in the US (East Coast and Midwest) and they primarily eat aphids. It’s a lot easier to pounce on and eat an aphid that a larger winged insect, though…

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