Tiny home on wheels, caterpillar-style.
See that little helix of a log cabin in the photo above? It was built by a caterpillar – which carries it around wherever it goes. If you're thinking "What?! How?!" ... I'm right there with you.
Caterpillars are truly among the most wondrous of camouflagers. Some look just like scary snakes, others look like feathers, while still others look like plants. Given that they are slow, somewhat defenseless, and make a quick protein-packed meal for deft predators, it's no wonder that they have adapted some of the most fanciful disguises in the animal kingdom.The house-building creature above belongs to the Psychidae family, otherwise broadly known as bagworm caterpillars; a rather unglamorous name for such a clever creature. The image was taken in Kalimantan, Borneo, by wildlife photographer Chien C. Lee. Lee specializes in documenting the flora and fauna of rainforests, with a particular emphasis on species that exhibit extraordinary adaptations. I'd say that building a house on one's back qualifies.
As explained on the California Academy of Sciences' site bioGraphic, here's the method to the marvelous madness:
"Despite the fixed appearance of this napping larva’s fort, the structure is designed to move – and to grow – with its builder. Just as nautiluses add sections to their shells as they age, some bagworms add carefully trimmed twigs to their shelters, binding them to their bodies with threads of silk. The genetic blueprints for these structures, it turns out, are species-specific, but also dependent upon available materials. While some build elaborate spiral pyramids like this one, others appear to be a bit more haphazard with their construction practices – slapping together dwellings of pine needles or bits of tree bark."
(For more on seashells, see: How are seashells formed.)
Here are some more examples. The first reveals a glimpse of the crafty critter itself; the second one has selected seeds for its building material, resulting in a feathery gown that would make Valentino proud.
According to the University of Florida, there are around 1,000 species that comprise the Psychidae family. The larvae of all of them are enclosed in a "bag," hence the "bagworm" name. Curiously, life after the larval state doesn't sound nearly as fun as the housebuilding stage. The University notes:
"In many species of bagworms, the adult female’s wings and appendages are greatly reduced to vestigial mouthparts and legs, small eyes, and no antennae or wings. The female remains in a caterpillar-like state, mates, and then becomes essentially an egg-filled sac. The male bagworm emerges as a freely flying moth that is hairy and charcoal black .... Neither the male nor the female adult feeds. The female lives a couple of weeks, while the male lives only one to two days."
In the end, they may not live long as moths, if they even become one at all ... but they sure do build some marvelous structures along the way.
For more on these caterpillars and other wonders of nature, visit bioGraphic.