Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“Are caterpillars ticklish?” Part 2: The Testing

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

Tickle, tickle (Photo: Shala Howell)

If you are just joining us, yesterday my daughter asked me if caterpillars are ticklish. Today is the day we find out.

First we needed a test subject

Acquiring a test subject was easy. It’s spring. All we really had to do was park under a tree overnight. When we walked out this morning, we found plenty of candidates.

a small green caterpillar, just under one inch long, next to the tip of a measuring tape

Our Test Subject (shown next to a ruler because measuring stuff makes it seem more science-y)

Then we gathered our tickling supplies

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).

We needed a more gentle approach. 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.

So we gathered a leaf and a flower from outside, and pulled one of the feathers off a cat toy.

Tickle Attempt 1: The Leaf

A curled up caterpillar on the end of a leaf.

Get me out of here! (Photo: Shala Howell)

Tickling a caterpillar with a leaf was hard. Once you put the leaf near the caterpillar’s belly (where the nervous system is), the caterpillar simply squidged onto it.

Preliminary Verdict #1:
Leaves do not appear to be very ticklish for caterpillars.

Tickle Attempt #2: The Feather

The first tickle with the feather was highly satisfying, as the caterpillar promptly curled up on its side just like my daughter does when I tickle her. It looked very ticklish. But the results of the second and third attempts with the feather were not as compelling (the caterpillar simply ignored it).

Preliminary Verdict #2:
Feathers appear to be more startling than ticklish.

Tickle Attempt #3: The Flower

My daughter tickles a caterpillar with a flower

tickle, tickle, tickle (Photo: Shala Howell)

The flower gets more points, as my daughter says, because every time we tried to tickle the caterpillar with the flower, it appeared to work.

Our Conclusion:

Caterpillars are ticklish with the right equipment.

What the 4-Year-Old Thought:

“Very good.”

Finally, thank your test subject

No caterpillars were harmed in this experiment, although one of them was thoroughly annoyed. My daughter thanked him with a plate of tasty snacks.

mmm caterpillar snacks

6 Responses to ““Are caterpillars ticklish?” Part 2: The Testing”

  1. Jester Queen

    I love it. You did a scientific experiment to figure out an answer. FREAKING AWESOME. I shall arm my children with flowers in future attempts to amuse the caterpillar population.


    • Shala Howell

      I know. I wish more of my daughter’s questions lent themselves to experiments within my rather limited scientific skill and tool set. If any more come up you can believe I’ll write them up!


  2. Eddy

    Stumbled across this blog by having the same question myself. Fun fact, caterpillars taste with their feet so they might have actually been reacting to the flavor of the supplies instead of being ticklish!



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