ABOVE: Theroa zethus spraying acid.

The caterpillar Theroa zethus sprays acid on the plant it eats to bypass the plant’s defenses, biologists reported yesterday (July 10) in PLOS One. The caterpillars feed on poinsettia plants, which have a defensive outer layer of latex to keep predators out. But by scraping the plant’s surface and spraying acid, the caterpillars penetrate the plant’s defenses.

D.E. Dussourd et al., “A notodontid novelty: Theroa zethus caterpillars use behavior and anti-predator weaponry to disarm host plants,” PLOS One, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0218994, 2019.

Chia-Yi Hou is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at chou@the-scientist.com.

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caterpillar acid spraying plant defense latex poinsettia insect predation

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