[Nature is fascinating in some of its weirdness. Jan]
By Gege Li
THIS caterpillar sports a unique headpiece: each ball is one of its old moulted heads, precariously stacked on top of each other.
As the caterpillar of the moth Uraba lugens grows, it sheds its exoskeleton – but rather than getting rid of the previous head section, it stays attached to its body to create a bizarre “hat”.
This has earned it the nickname the mad hatterpillar, after the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Found in Australia and New Zealand, U. lugens is also known as the gum-leaf skeletoniser, thanks to the caterpillars’ tendency to demolish eucalyptus leaves down to the veins.
U. lugens moults up to 13 times while in its caterpillar phase, with the tower of heads starting to be built from the fourth moult. As the caterpillar grows, each empty head is bigger than the last.
The headpiece isn’t just for show, however. “The function is to protect them from predators – they use it to bat predators away,” says photographer Alan Henderson of Minibeast Wildlife, an invertebrate resource centre based in Queensland, Australia. The “hat” probably boosts the c