“At archebold station, there is a species of sundew plant, Drosera capillars
, that is abundant…we cultivated them to observe how the plant feeds. They were fun, but what we discovered had little to do with what we has set out to study…
… we noticed that someone had been nibbling on our sundews. Whoever it was has a special appetite for the glandular hairs (tentacles) and an ability to consume them, dew droplets and all. Some leaves were missing a few stalks; others were missing the entire complement. In place of the stalks our mysterious stranger left fecal pellets, loosely scattered over the leaf. Judging from the looks of the pellets it had to be a kind of caterpillar, one that was active at night.
We figured that the stranger was probably light-shy… we set up some gooseneck lights with red lights, which most insects are blind to… We did not have long to wait. The suspects were indeed caterpillars, and they all appeared at the same time, shortly after dark. There were six of them, similar in appearance… probably the same species.
The all began to feed right away. They were consistent in how they disposed of the glands. First the imbibed the secretory droplet, then they ate the glandular knob, and finally they chewed the stalks. The smaller larva concentrated on the shortest glands, while the large larva consumed the longest stalk and proceeded to graze the leaf surface itself.
We watched carefully and thought we found out why they don’t get stuck to the glands. The caterpillar’s body is with long slender hairs, which we believe it uses as feelers. As the larva crawled between the glands it touched droplets with the hairs but always managed to keep the body itself away from the glue. Iit was as if the caterpillar was using the hairs to gauge a safe space….
We watched the caterpillars night after night… we noted that they even ate the remnants of insects that had become trapped on the plants. They consumed the carcasses skeleton and all. Their rate of consumption was impressive. One specimen over a period of 8 days ate the glands of several plants, and ate entire leaves. Interestingly, when the larva pupates, it ascends the long, upright floral stalk the grows from the center of the plants and pupates … thus protected from ants.
The… moth pupated into … Trichoptilus parvulus
… who’s live history had been unknown."