Very hungry caterpillars

It’s almost a pity that we introduce children to caterpillars so young. The magic of the transformation of a squishy, unimpressive tube into a living, fluttering creature apparently made of stained glass gets muddled up with the rest of the magic of childhood and is too easy to forget when we grow up. Everyone knows about caterpillars turning into butterflies, but almost no one really thinks about it.

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Photo by Andrea Westmoreland, reproduced through a Creative Common license from Flickr.

Even before they turning into butterflies (or moths), caterpillars are impressive. They hatch tiny, into a bird-eat-caterpillar world, and their one crucial job is to grow big in time to metamorphose. This isn’t a particularly complex task—there’s a reason caterpillars are basically just digestive systems on legs—but it isn’t necessarily easy, either. They need to find the right food and eat it quickly without being eaten themselves.

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The incredible story of the Black Robin

This is the Black Robin (Petroica traversi), a species found only in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand:

Black Robin. Photo originally by schmechf, modified by Wikimedia Commons.

Black Robin. Photo originally by schmechf, modified by Wikimedia Commons.

This was the total world population of Black Robins in 1980:

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Five birds. That’s not great—and it gets worse. Guess how many of those were adult females?

One.

Almost any conservationist would tell you that this was a hopeless situation. You can’t restart a species from one female—especially when that female is a whopping eight years old already, in a species that generally lives four years.

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