Here is my latest piece for the Creature Feature column, on tent caterpillars. A couple of corrections/clarifications:
- Horses are grazers, not browsers, so the sentence that reads “horses…swallowed a large number of tent caterpillars along with mouthfuls of leaves” is incorrect, because horses are more likely to eat mouthfuls of grass than mouthfuls of leaves.
- The subheading for this piece is slightly misleading, because “truly social” (or “eusocial“) is a strictly defined biological term referring to sociality that includes overlapping generations within a colony, division of labour, cooperative brood care, and sterility of the workers in a colony. Tent caterpillars are not eusocial, but I’m arguing that their version of sociality is just as interesting.
The piece is based on the following pieces of research:
- A popular science summary by James T. Costa, titled “Caterpillars as social insects” [PDF].
- The papers of T.D. Fitzgerald and M. McClure.
- “Eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) cause mare reproductive loss syndrome” by Webb et al.
- “Everybody knows but the rest of the world: the case of a caterpillar-borne reproductive loss syndrome in dromedary camels observed by Sahrawi pastoralists of Western Sahara” by Volpato et al.