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Look, Don't Touch: The Spiny, Bright & Venomous Caterpillars of Peru

Aaron Pomerantz

When you think of a caterpillar, your mind usually turns to an image of a plump little grub-like insect with stubby legs, happily munching away on a leaf. But caterpillars in the jungle don't mess around. Surrounded by predatory spiders, ants, birds and lizards, it's a wonder how any caterpillar reaches its final butterfly or moth form.

While many caterpillars remain remarkably cryptic, blending in with their environment, some take the opposite approach. Evolution has carved out warrior-like caterpillars that don spiny armor plastered in bright warning colors. To pack on an extra punch, many of these caterpillars harbor venom-tipped spines that will leave the attacker, or unfortunate human, with a painful skin rash and in some cases even death.

I'm always fascinated yet cautious when I encounter these caterpillars in the wild, so here are some of the coolest looking Lepidoptera larvae I've encountered trekking through the Peruvian Amazon.

Take a look at my photos below. And to check out more otherworldly jungle creatures — and even help with scientific discovery — join in our Wired Amazon project!

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Hiking through a bamboo forest, we found this large, spiny caterpillar chilling on a twig. Possible ID as Pseudautomeris yourii.

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View of long spines protruding near the head.
 
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One of our group members said it reminded her of a frosted birthday cake...
 
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 I spotted this big bright caterpillar near the Refugio Amazonas lodge. Possible ID as Automeris innoxia
 
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Those spines do not look pleasant to touch, like a nightmarish Christmas tree.
 
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Front view of the head
 
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Next up is the infamous "Donald Trump Caterpillar". My buddy Phil Torres helped make this critter an internet sensation when he documented it at the Posada Jungle lodge a while back.
 
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This Neotropical species belongs to the family Megalopygidae and has a nasty reputation for its itchy pain-inducing setea.
 
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Dorsal view of Mr. Trump-pillar.  If he could talk, I'd imagine the Trump-pillar calling all other caterpillars a bunch o' losers.
 
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A closer look at the Donald Trump caterpillar's spine. Notice the little barbs on each hair — ouch! Image was taken using the Foldscope at 140X.
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Here's a purple Trump caterpillar we found back in December - lookin' sharp!
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 Back in December my friend Chris Johns helped photograph this beautiful green Saturniid caterpillar, possibly Automeris sp?
 
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This spiky caterpillar reminded me of a crawling cactus. If you look close, you can even see a couple of ants skewered like Shish kebob!
 
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Last but certainly not least, this fancy sack of fuzz is known as the Shag Carpet caterpillar. These bizarre moth larvae have thick coats of red hair with carpet-like pattern in black and white on top.
 
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Compilation of the spiny, bright & venomous caterpillars of Peru photographed in the field, "Meet Your Neighbors" style
 For more updates you can follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronPomerantz
 
To discover these fascinating caterpillars, along with dozens of other incredible species, book your dream trip to the Amazon today!
 
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