Communication in caterpillars evolved from walking

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London, April 14 (ANI): Scientists from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, have found that communication in caterpillars evolved from the simple act of walking.

The researchers have found that hair-like structures that the creatures use to make sound evolved from legs.

Study's lead author Dr Jayne Yack and colleagues examined the masked birch caterpillar, which uses these structures to communicate its ownership of a leaf.

This means the caterpillar is able to 'tell' an intruder to go away without risking injury in a conflict.

"These are really interesting caterpillars. They make complex vibratory signals using hair-like structures on their 'bum' segment," the BBC quoted Yack as saying.

The caterpillars drag these structures across the leaf when an intruder enters their 'leaf shelter' to make a scraping sound.

"When they make this signal, the intruder leaves. It's like saying, I'm here, get out of here - I already own this leaf," Yack said.

The research team looked at other species within the same group of caterpillars and created a 'molecular family tree' of the creatures.

They used chemical markers to work out the relationship between the animals, revealing which in the group were the more ancient or 'basal' species and which species evolved more recently or were 'derived".

"Those more basal species actually didn't have these sound-producing structures. [In their place], they had legs that they used to walk towards an intruder," said Yack.

Yack explained that these more ancient or basal species walk towards intruders and try to attack them.

"They can kill each other in these confrontations," Yack added.

She said that the evolution of the scraping display had allowed the caterpillars to resolve their conflicts without fighting.

"So our idea is that these ritualised signals actually prevent damage to both contestants - they resolve conflicts in a more 'civilised' way," Yack said.

The study has been published in the journal Nature ommunications. (ANI)

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