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The Flat Cap on ... Caterpillars

Today The Flat Cap has been spending time in his garden. Whilst out in the fresh air he came across a caterpillar. These creatures have always fascinated The Flat Cap, so he resolved to find out more.

The first thing Bert learned was that caterpillars can have as many as eight pairs of legs, although five pairs aren’t proper legs and are just there to aid climbing and overall mobility. Obviously being a caterpillar means they go through lots of socks and have to buy a great number of shoes. Buying clothes is also a nightmare as they are forever growing at such a rapid rate. On the plus side the caterpillars soon transform into moths or butterflies so there is always a large supply of second hand, or to use the modern term, “pre-worn”, caterpillar socks, shoes and clothing. Most caterpillars will buy their socks and shoes from a charity shop as they don’t need them for too long. As well as having lots of legs caterpillars also have six pairs of eyes. Short- or long-sighted caterpillars can require several pairs of spectacles during their brief lives and once again there is a ready supply of used eyewear for those who need it. When not spending their time in charity shops, or the nearest opticians, caterpillars like to eat a lot.

Caterpillars like to eat leaves and some can increase their weight by as much as twenty seven thousand times in just three weeks. If caterpillars were to go to Slimming World, or one of those other groups that encourage you to lose weight, they would be always be getting told off. So, they don’t bother. Some species of caterpillars eat other caterpillars, or insect eggs, or vary their diet by eating different types of leaves. In zoology this is known as being ‘polyphagous’. The Flat Cap also learned that many caterpillars are nocturnal. This is hardly surprising when one considers that they have probably scoffed the equivalent of two hundred McDonalds Happy Meals each day and are thus ready for a good sleep come bedtime. Caterpillars themselves have several predators including wasps, birds, and even humans. The bushmen of South Africa eat mopane worms for protein, and in China silkworms are considered a delicacy. Both types of caterpillar are a rich source of protein.

Because caterpillars have a number of predators they have developed various defensive behaviours to ward off wasps, birds and other creatures that might threaten their existence. Some have long organs attached to the ends of their bodies, which they wiggle about to scare away flies or wasps. When not wiggling their long organs caterpillars will throw themselves around frenetically to ward off their foes: probably a bit like the insect equivalent of Happy Mondays front man and dancer “Bez”. The “Pine Processionary” caterpillar loves a good knees up itself, and dozens of them will form a long line, head to toe to conga through the pine and cedar trees of Central Asia and North Africa. Other caterpillars are able to shoot out a line of silk and swing from branch to branch in the manner of Tarzan or Spiderman. There is even one species that can make high pitched whistles to scare away birds; pretty much in the way that blokes on building sites do the same thing to young women who are just popping out to Greggs for a sausage roll or a doughnut.

The Flat Cap decided that the best way to find out even more about caterpillars would be to visit his mate ‘Butterfly Bob’ who got his nickname after having had a butterfly tattooed to his left buttock during a drunken night out in Blackpool. Bob also professed to know a fair bit about butterflies, and by association their previous incarnations as caterpillars. Below are some facts that Bob was happy to share:

· In the 1973 film Papillon actor Steve McQueen played the lead role of Henri Charrière, a safecracker nicknamed "Papillon" because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest. Framed for murder and sent to a prison in French Guyana the film chronicles Charrière’s attempts to escape, and his friendship with the wealthy counterfeiter and fellow prisoner Louis Dega (played by Dustin Hoffman). The film was remade in 2017 but Bob still prefers the original version; which he went to see at the cinema - before Netflix had been invented

· In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice has a conversation with a caterpillar

· If you do an internet search on caterpillars you invariably find links to clothing and a big industrial company that makes engines, turbines and lots of other stuff

· Caterpillars change into moths or butterflies, but do not mate with each other

· The average length of a caterpillar is between 30mm and 60mm

· A caterpillar has over 4,000 muscles, which compares favourably to humans who have just 629 muscles

· The venom of the assassin caterpillar can be fatal to humans

· Caterpillars move along by squeezing their muscles in a wave like motion

· Caterpillar shaped cakes make great birthday cakes but sometimes big supermarkets fall out with each other if they think their caterpillar design has been copied

· Because caterpillars grow so quickly they need to change their skin four times


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