One of my uncles was visiting Kerala for a few days, and we did what we always do with VIP visitors: trekking together in the Periyar Reserve. 48 hours ago we were in the Gavi sector, and as always my attention was drawn as much to the charismatic micro-fauna as to their mega- counterparts. In all the places where my family has lived and worked–North, Central and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, and now India–we have always been most impressed by interpretive naturalist guides that can make insects as interesting as primates, pachyderms or felines.
It is not easy, but it is possible. So I am focusing alot of attention lately on small creatures like the one in the photograph above, hoping to unlock visually what these great guides do with words crafted into stories.
Caterpillars are a highly diverse group of organisms. Besides the broad difference between pupating into a moth or butterfly (which in fact doesn’t particularly split physical appearances into two groups), there are many different body types, eating habits, and defense mechanisms. Some species rely on camouflage and the ability to remain unseen to avoid predators. Others resort to toxicity and spikiness.
Just like every other group of organisms on the planet, if it even looks remotely poisonous, it’s probably best to steer clear. Many caterpillars rely on this rule of thumb – brightly colored and gaudy, predators can’t be sure whether or not they will get a mouthful of poison when they try to enjoy a crunchy meal (and neither can I, without a field guide). All in all, best to keep a distance, because nothing so willing to attract so much attention to itself can be safe to touch.