Biologists have discovered a new species of caterpillar in the Hawaiian rain forest that ensnares snails in silken webs, then feasts on them until nothing but the shell is left.
It's the first time such behavior has been documented in caterpillars -- or any member of its biological order, Lepidoptera, which includes moths and butterflies.
"It was like finding a wolf that dives for clams," said University of Hawaii biologist and entomologist Daniel Rubinoff, who reported the discovery with William P. Haines, a biologist at the university, in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
Though all caterpillars have silk glands, this species is the first to be seen using theirs like a spider does. And though nearly all lepidopterans are vegetarians, "this caterpillar wouldn't sample foliage even if it were starving," Rubinoff said.