Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Caterpillars, Bonobos, European Songbirds and More…

Cheryl Carlin

Parachuting Caterpillars

Parachuting Caterpillars
(Kazuo Yamazaki / Journal of Insect Science)
Caterpillars that live in treetops typically crawl or jump or rappel down silk threads to the ground, where they spin cocoons. But one nettle caterpillar goes its own way, according to a new study in the Journal of Insect Science. Larvae of the moth Scopelodes contracta—found in Japan, China and India—nibble through a leaf to detach it from the stem. The caterpillars cling to the leaf as it floats to the ground, as if riding down on a parachute.

Mothers Help Sons Mate

(Frans Lanting)
Male bonobos accompanied by their mothers have greater success mating with fertile females than unchaperoned males, say researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Mother bonobos can assist low- and mid-ranking sons by interrupting the mating attempts of unrelated males. By hanging out with mom, sons also have more opportunities to interact with fertile females, make their own overtures, mate and reproduce.

Why Fish Stop and Go

zebra fish
(Matthew Henry)
Small fish, especially young ones, tend to swim quickly for an instant, stop and then zip away again. What accounts for such darting around? Briefly stopping may allow small fish to better feel the pull of predators, such as larger fish, that suck prey into their mouths. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that stationary zebra fish larvae in laboratory tanks are twice as likely as swimming ones to avoid piston-induced suction that mimics the water flow of a predator slurping up a meal.

Web Master

bark spider
(Matjaz Kunter)
A species of bark spider recently discovered in Madagascar spins the largest webs ever recorded—up to 82 feet wide—over streams, rivers and lakes. Named Caerostris darwini after Charles Darwin, the spider has evolved exceptionally tough silk for “bridgelines,” which anchor its giant, orb-shaped webs to vegetation on land and keep the webs suspended above water. The spider itself is only a few inches long and eats insects such as bees and mayflies.


(Alan Williams / Naturepl.com)
Name: The blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus, a European songbird.
At First Light: Males sing at dawn.
By Night Light: In areas with streetlights, males sing earlier in the morning and attract more mates, and females lay eggs 1.5 days sooner.
Not So Bright: “Light pollution influences the timing of breeding behavior,” says co-author Bart Kempenaers of the Max Planck Institute, and could override natural cues about when to mate and with whom.

Get the latest Science stories in your inbox.