New Zealand: thin ‘Houdini’ caterpillar discovered

Sporadanthus ferrugineus

From the New Zealand Herald:

Caterpillar does a Houdini

Friday October 20, 2006

A rare, ultra-thin caterpillar that lives inside plant stems and escaped scientific discovery until 2003 has been named after the magician Harry Houdini.

Hamilton Landcare Research scientist Corrine Watts first discovered the skinny, orange caterpillar in Waikato in 2003 and nicknamed it Fred the Thread.

After further investigation, Dr Watts and colleague Robert Hoare realised Fred was the caterpillar which turned into a type of moth which had been a mystery to scientists until then.

Fred is thinner than 1mm and lives inside the narrow stems of the endangered rush-like plant Sporadanthus ferrugineus, which is found only in three North Island wetlands.

In full, the species’ new name is houdinia flexilissima.

The first part of the name is a nod to the incredible escape performed by the adult moth after it has pupated inside the tight confines of its host plant.

Dr Hoare believes the newly discovered caterpillar might be the world’s thinnest.

Two of the wetlands in Waikato where Fred lives are protected, while one, at Taihape, is being mined for peat, Dr Watts said.

Gamman Mining, which operates there, has been incredibly supportive of ecological work in the area and has put significant amounts of money into restoring mined areas, she said.

However, in future the land could be redeveloped into farmland.

Dr Watts said it would be a shame to lose the habitat of the highly evolved houdinia moth, which had an incredibly specialised relationship with its host plant.

1 thought on “New Zealand: thin ‘Houdini’ caterpillar discovered

  1. Pingback: New Zealand: tuataras extinct by global warming? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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