“Why are caterpillar insides mushy?”

While we were doing the caterpillar-tickling experiment this week, the question of how to tickle the caterpillars had to be dealt with early on. I ruled out using our fingers on grounds of caterpillar mushiness, and that led to questions about why caterpillars are so very mushy anyway.

Direct experimentation was obviously out for this one, so we asked the iPhone: Why are caterpillar insides mushy?

According to the Caterpillar edition of How Stuff Works, caterpillars are built to eat. They’ve got a mouth to take in food and an intestine that runs through their entire body to digest the food and store it as fat. There’s also silk glands that make the silk the caterpillar uses to get around, to make a nest (or group home in the case of tent caterpillars), or to tie up snails for a tasty snack (in the case of some Hawaiian caterpillars, which unlike most of their brethren aren’t content to simply eat leaves). When it’s time to change into a butterfly or moth, caterpillars will also use their silk to attach their chrysalis (the protective shell that caterpillars live in while they are changing) to some safe place. And finally, there’s a nervous system that runs along the caterpillar’s stomach, which may or may not be helpful for those of us who wish to tickle them.

The point is, though, all these things are soft. There are no hard bits like bones or teeth like we have on the inside of our bodies, which is why caterpillars are mushy.

Note: Before your 4-year-old goes off to explore the mushiness of caterpillar interiors, it may be prudent to remind them that mushy creatures have defenses too. Some caterpillars are prickly and obviously unpleasant to squash, but even the fuzzy ones can cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction. Plus, it’s not nice to squash things.

Related articles:

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
This entry was posted in Ask the iPhone and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s