Origin of the hungry caterpillar: Evolution of fasting in slug moths (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Limacodidae)

J. M. Zaspel, S. J. Weller, M. E. Epstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Studies of caterpillar defense strategy evolution typically focus on aposematic coloration, gregarious behavior, and/or chemical defense. In the slug moth family Limacodidae, the evolution of chemical defense is coupled to the life history trait of first instar feeding behaviors. In nettle caterpillars, the first instars fast and molt into a second instar that feeds. In contrast, gelatines and monkey slug larval forms feed in the first instar. This study focused on whether the evolution of fasting associated with the nettle morphology was a derived trait of single or multiple origins. Twenty-nine species of Limacodidae (including one Chrysopolominae) representing 27 genera and four outgroup species with known first and final instar morphologies and behaviors were included. Four out-group species representing Megalopygidae (1 sp), Dalceridae (1 sp) and Aididae (2 sp) were included. These were sequenced for three molecular markers for a total of 4073 bp, mitochondrial COI (~1500 bp), 18S (~1900 bp) and the D2 region of 28S (approximately 670 bp). Maximum likelihood and Bayesian analyses were conducted. The resulting phylogeny and comparative analysis of feeding strategy revealed that the nettle caterpillar morphology and behavior of larval fasting may have a single origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)827-832
Number of pages6
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • Larval ontogeny
  • Zygaenoidea
  • mtDNA


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