Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“Are caterpillars ticklish?”

A five-year-old girl tickles a caterpillar with a flower.

Tickle, tickle (Photo: Shala Howell)

When my husband, a Harvard researcher, heard this question, he laughed for about five minutes before asking how anyone could possibly figure it out.

What does being ticklish mean for a caterpillar, anyway?

When I tickled my daughter, she laughed and squirmed away. My husband did as well. Seemed reasonable to expect caterpillars to do the same thing. But…

“Can caterpillars laugh?” my daughter asked.

And even if they could laugh, my husband pointed out, how would we know? We can’t hear them and don’t have the right equipment to detect the minute sound waves tiny little caterpillar giggles would generate.

Would squirming away be sufficient evidence of ticklishness even if we can’t hear the caterpillar laugh?

My daughter said yes, so the experiment was on.

Our Working Hypothesis

Caterpillars are ticklish.

What We Needed

  • A test subject

Capturing a caterpillar was such a trivial problem, it was hardly worth thinking about. After all, it’s spring. All I had to do was park the car under a tree for about 5 minutes to get plenty of test subjects.

  • A relatively gentle tickling technique

Slightly more difficult was the question of how to tickle the caterpillars. Fingers were clearly out due to the caterpillars’ mushability (which naturally led to a series of questions about why caterpillar insides are so mushy).

My daughter suggested holding our hands out very steadily and letting the caterpillars crawl onto them. I thought that would be an excellent way to see if the caterpillars could tickle us, but might tell us a bit less about the ticklishness of the caterpillars themselves.

I suggested tickling the caterpillars with a feather to see what they did. My daughter suggested tickling them with leaves and flowers. We decided to try all of them.

  • A sunny day

Sadly, it started to rain, so our experiment would have to wait until the next day.

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5 Responses to ““Are caterpillars ticklish?””

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