Luján Eroles, from Santa Fe, Argentina, was walking in her yard one morning when she saw what appeared to be a two headed snake. The stubby, 4-inch long creature greatly resembled a viper with one blinking eye! (Wait, snakes don’t blink.) Confused, she then went to Facebook and asked for help in identifying the creature. Apparently, this isn’t a snake at all but is a result of the power of animal mimicry. While experts think it’s an elephant hawk moth caterpillar, such species is only found in Europe, Russia, China, Japan and Korea.
Nonetheless, most hawk moth caterpillars are known to camouflage themselves as snake-like creatures to appear scary and safeguard themselves from predators. “Caterpillars are nature’s hot dogs, with many other animals regarding them as a tasty snack,” Katy Prudic, an entomologist at the University of Arizona, says.
John Cancalosi/National Geographic Creative
As caterpillars grow to become a beautiful butterfly, the metamorphosis process completely affect their body structure which hugely involves putting on body fat that makes them look more delicious as ever. So, to avoid getting devoured, many caterpillar species develop different kinds of disguises. Like this giant swallowtail caterpillar below which mimics bird poop right down to its smell!
Frank & Joyce Burek/National Geographic Creative
As a predator, you wouldn’t want to catch your prey only to know it’s something you want to avoid, right? “You think you’ve got this tasty hot dog you’re going to eat, but it turns around and puffs up its head to make it look more like a snake. What happens is, the predator will often drop the prey or run away,” Prudic explained.
But how does the hawk moth perform the blinking eye? It’s all part of perfecting the disguise. According to a paper in the Journal of Natural History
, such feature is known as an anal horn on which it “becomes a posterior eyespot structure capable of rapid palpitation.” This behavior helps the caterpillar imitate a “more generalized” eye, even though snakes don’t blink.
“I had never seen anything like it. It was just like a snake, and its eyes were so strange,” Luján told the Daily Mail.
Guess it’s still a win for the caterpillar! The homeowner thought it’s poisonous which exactly its goal was.