Caterpillar Communication from Ambulation?

on April 17, 2010

Could caterpillar communication have come from ambulation?

Chances are most of us didn’t even know caterpillars could communicate, much less how they communicate or where that capability may have come from. But a team publishing in Nature Communications claims the basis for their ability to communicate comes down to one thing: evolution.

Some caterpillars use structures on the rear sections of their bodies to make “complex vibratory signals” to warn away intruders, explained Carleton University’s Jayne Yack, the team leader. “When they make this signal, the intruder leaves. It’s like saying, I’m here, get out of here—I already own this leaf.”1

Applying certain genetic assumptions of evolution, the team identified more “basal” or primitive caterpillars that lacked these structures, but instead featured legs in their place. In comparison, the caterpillars that can “communicate” can “resolve conflicts in a more ‘civilised’ way,” Yack suggests, comparing the behavior to the way angry bulls signal with their hooves.2

Creationists can offer two possible explanations for the origin of such behavior. First, it is possible the team’s determination of which caterpillars are “basal” is entirely incorrect, and that God uniquely created caterpillars with each anatomy/capability/behavior. Alternatively, it is possible that natural selection has favored shorter and shorter legs in some environments, reducing them down to the communicative structures (a loss of genetic information). Either way, this interesting study reminds us that caterpillar lives are more sophisticated than we might have thought.

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  1. Victoria Gill, “Caterpillar Communication Evolved from Walking,” BBC News, April 13, 2010,
  2. Ibid.


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