Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Caterpillar action

One of the side effects of having an obsession with passiflora is that the plants serve as the sole food source for helliconia butterflies (hey! A Brian Aldiss reference!). The butterfly larvae, also known as caterpillars, eat the passion vines and grow up big and strong. And since passiflora have evolved to synthesize their own special brand of natural cyanide (as a defense mechanism to keep from getting eaten) the caterpillars have evolved to incorporate this cyanide into their own defense mechanisms. It makes them (and the butterflies they turn into) really nasty tasting as I understand it, but more importantly, fills the black spines covering their bodies with a nasty little toxin to ward off predators.

I accidentally brushed against one of these little guys a few minutes ago by accident. I've now got an impressive double line of blisters running across the back of my hand. It's not excruciatingly painful, but goodness, it doesn't feel good.

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