Saturday, 1 March 2014

Caterpillar - Hairy Cats & Leaf Attacks

A lime green caterpillar with black stripes and yellow dots eating a plant
A rather dashing caterpillar indeed
(photo by Tinkerbrad)

 CATERPILLAR

Noun. Late Middle English.
[Perhaps from Anglo-Norman variant of Old French chatepelose literally 'hairy cat', influenced by obsolete PILLER 'ravager'.]

1 The larva of a butterfly or moth;
loosely any of the similar larvae of various insects. LME

2 figurative. A rapacious person; one who preys on society. Now rare or obsolete. M16

3 singular & (usually) in plural. Any of several Mediterranean plants of the leguminous genus Scorpiurus,
with spirally curved pods. Also caterpillar plant. L16

4 (Also capitalised as Caterpillar) (Proprietary name for) a vehicle with an endless articulated steel band
(Caterpillar track, Caterpillar tread, etc.) passing round and worked by two wheels, for travelling on rough ground. E20

A hairy Knot Grass caterpillar on the page of a book
As well as being voracious eaters, caterpillars are voracious readers too
(photo by John Proctor)
Caterpillar - probably from Old French chatepelose which means 'hairy cat'. Granted, some caterpillars are jolly hairy, but one wonders if the numbnuts that named them had ever actually seen a cat. Or a caterpillar. Bizarrely, this catty comparison exists in other languages too - in Swiss German a caterpillar is a Teufelskatz, which literally means 'devil's cat'.

Oh, hang on a second ... if I really squint ... and look at it when it's kind of dark ... no ... nope ... definitely not. I'm sorry, but a caterpillar looks absolutely nothing like a cat. Still, catlike or not (and they're not), caterpillars do metamorphose into breathtakingly beautiful butterflies, one of the most miraculous and awe-inspiring transformations in the natural world, so one can't hold too much against them (but, seriously, be careful about holding them, as they're often poisonous).

A (hairy) black and orange checkerspot butterfly caterpillar eating a flower
Oh here's one that looks like a cat! Oh no wait. It doesn't. At all.
(photo by Mike Baird)

What's 'caterpillar' in your language? 

Can you see the hairy cat?

Do please cater your pillar in the comment box below.

19 comments:

  1. Oh lordie. This brought back some not nice memories.
    Quite a few years back when we lived further south in a milder climate, we had an attack of tent caterpillars.
    It was a population explosion, and it was ugly!
    They were everywhere, and completely devoured the leaves on the trees.
    If you want to be grossed out, do a search for the little b*s*a*d*s!!

    Oh, and they have absolutely no likeness to cats!!

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    1. Aww ... and yet the page I looked up on tent caterpillars described them as "sociable" creatures with "remarkable abilities". Oh, and it also said they could defoliate tens of thousands of acres of woodland in a single population bloom. Yeah, I can see how that would be irksome.

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  2. My husband tells me that the Dunbar caterpillar hunts other caterpillars. It chases them down, too. That's slightly cat-like. Mind you, the Water Veneer caterpillar lives under the water, and I've never comes across a cat that's a happy swimmer.

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    1. Is the Dunbar caterpillar hairy? If so, your husband might just have solved the riddle (even though I'm pretty sure it still won't look like a cat).

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    2. Unfortunately it seems to be green and naked. So unless cats have bogeys...

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  3. I've always found Caterpillars slightly unnerving. They may have beautiful designs like in the photos but there's something slightly sinister in the way they move about. Almost a Terminator like unstoppability to eat your prize begonias.

    I can't be the only one surely?

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    1. No, you're not ... I've been just a tad cautious of caterpillars ever since ...

      I was in Barbados staying with a family, and I happened to mention at breakfast that there had been a caterpillar in the shower when I went for my morning ablutions. Everyone immediately stopped talking and looked at me. "Oh it's OK," I said, "I picked it up and tossed it out the window." Eyes widened in my direction. "What colour was it?" they said. "Oh, it was multicoloured - red and orange and yellow. And very hairy too." Someone dropped their spoon with a loud clank (just for dramatic effect), and I'm pretty sure I heard a gasp. Apparently, I had handled a very dangerous caterpillar, the hairs of which can lodge in your eyes and mucous membranes, and the poison of which can initiate anaphylactic shock.

      Ever since then, I have indeed been just a little wary of caterpillars.

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    2. The caterpillar of the Oak Processionary Moth is poisonous, sometimes occurs in Britain, and its hairs can cause similar problems. When a nest is discovered in a tree they send for a man with a ladder and a can of hairspray. (I'm not making this up!)

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    3. In Belgium, when they're spotted, they burn the nests down with a flame thrower. True story.

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    4. Okay, not so true story. I probably was confused with this dream I might or might not have had where a flame thrower might or might not have been my choice of armour against filthy insectoids (I really, really do not like insects).

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    5. So in 2014 our most effective ways of dealing with caterpillars is either giving them a make-over or incinerating them with a flamethrower?

      Cool.

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  4. I loved caterpillars as a kid until one left some... residue... on my hand as it crawled along :p

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    1. Oh Kara ... you can't generalise against *all* caterpillars just because *you* happened to be handling the *one* caterpillar that wasn't house-trained ...

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  5. I read that during metamorphosis their innards completely break down into a sort of biological soup before reforming into a butterfly. Rather remarkable.

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    1. Clueless, this comment just led me to an internet search for various half-forgotten facts and research...until I stumbled across this article http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/caterpillars-innards-move-before-it-10-07-22/

      Caterpillars move by squishing their guts forward first, and then their outsides follow. AND they turn into goo when they metamorphose. So totally cool, and so totally yuck.

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    2. I wondered if the post-metamorphosis creature is, effectively, a different creature, but while researching caterpillars for this post I read somewhere that in some species there is evidence that the butterfly with remember certain things that it experienced in caterpillar form. I didn't have time to really go into that to confirm that it's true, but if it is, that's incredible.

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  6. Hairy cat? Hairy twig, more like. Or hairy bird poop. Cacapelose.

    Guess what a caterpillar is called in Dutch. Go on, do it. Imagine a caterpillar in your best possible Dutch. Bet you didn't call it a rups, eh? That is, however, what we call the little beastie. Rups.

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    1. Rups is, coincidentally, the Norse word for when a warrior burps having eaten a caterpillar.

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    2. Aaaand ... just checking that in the OED ... oh yeah ... C's right ... it's related to the word 'rupture'.

      *coughs*

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