From cute as a kitten to fierce as a dragon, these exquisite caterpillars prove there's no limit to bizarre when Mother Nature is driving.
Caterpillars are a wonder. The ever-so-curious larvae of butterflies and moths garner much more affection than other insect larvae, and there is little denying that they are really charming. Yes, they can inflict some serious stings and devour whole crops, but once they graduate to full-blown butterfly and moth status, they become important pollinators and part of a healthy ecosystem. Consider caterpillar-hood as the rebellious teen years.
One of the greatest challenges caterpillar face is that they are essentially slow-moving bundles of protein that make for excellent meals for their predators. Which is why they have developed all kinds of fancy tricks, like the aforementioned stinging thing as well as their array of looks which work to make them look larger, or scarier, or like other things, or hidden, and so on. All so clever, and all a delight to the nature lover with a soft-spot for larvae.
The following images show some of the extreme caterpillars of Ecuador, a place of astounding biodiversity. The photos were taken by scientist Andreas Kay, who has been documenting the diversity of life in Ecuador as an independent scientist since 2011 in order to raise more awareness for the treasures there, many of which are threatened by the destruction of tropical forests.
For more of Kay's incredible images (and more about the individual caterpillars shown here), visit his flickr page where he has shared an incredible 16,000 photos.