Overview of Caterpillar Sociality

caterpillars on nest


What is a Social Caterpillar?

eggsMoths and butterflies may lay several hundred eggs in a single batch .  The larvae that eclose from these eggs may disperse shortly after hatching or they may rema in tomoth laying eggsgether for part or all of their larval life.  Those that remain together constitute caterpillar societies.  Studies have shown that such sibling aggregates exhibit collective behaviors that vary from simple interactions to complex forms of cooperative behavior involving reciprocal communication.

How Common is Sociality in the Lepidoptera?

A review of the literature indicates that some 300 species of caterpillars occurring in 27 families of the Lepidoptera form sibling aggregations. To date, the social behavior of only a dozen or so of these species has been investigated in any detail.


What Types of Collective Behaviors do Social Caterpillars Exhibit?

General References

Costa, J. T. and N. E. Pierce. 1997. Social evolution in the Lepidoptera: ecological context and communication in larval societies. In J. C. Choe and B. J. Crespi (eds.) The evolution of social behavior in insects and arachnids. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 407-422.

Costa, J. T. 1997. Caterpillars as social insects. Amer. Scientist 85: 150-159.

Costa, J. T. and T. D. Fitzgerald. 1996. Developments in social terminology: semantic battles in a conceptual war. Trends Ecol. Evol. 11:285-289.

Fitzgerald, T. D. 1993. Social caterpillars. In N. E. Stamp and T. M. Casey (eds.) Caterpillars: ecological and evolutionary constraints on foraging. Chapman and Hall, New York, 372-403.

Fitzgerald, T. D. and S. C. Peterson. 1988. Cooperative foraging and communication in social caterpillars. Bioscience 38: 20-25.

Fitzgerald, T. D. and J. T. Costa. 1999. Collective behavior in social caterpillars. In C. Detrain, J. L. Deneubourg, and J. M. Pasteels (eds.) Information processing in social insects. Birkhauser Verlag, Basel, 379-400

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