Scientists have discovered 12 species of caterpillars that can survive for weeks underwater without ever breaking the surface. They don’t have gills and they don’t hold their breath.

Here’s an interesting one: Hawaiian scientists discover a terrestrial caterpillar (that eats tree snails) has an innate ability to survive underwater for weeks at a time. It seems that this isn’t a survival mechanism (just in case they fell out of a tree and into a stream whilst munching on tree snails), but a deliberate mechanism and possibly part of their lifecycle. What’s even more interesting – scientists have no idea how they do it:

Rubinoff and co-worker Patrick Schmitz of the University of Hawaii did not find any water-blocking stopper over the caterpillars’ tracheae or evidence of gills. The animals drowned quickly when kept in standing water, so they seem to need the higher levels of oxygen present in running water, and probably absorb it directly through pores in their body, the scientists said.

The trait appears to have evolved more than once, Rubinoff said. After analyzing the DNA of the 12 amphibious species, the scientists found that three separate lineages of moth had developed the ability to breathe underwater at different points in the past.

“When the pressures on an environment are released, what crazy things are animals capable of doing?” said John W. Brown, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“You just wonder . . . do all animals have that potential?”

Via reddit (link to PNAS article)

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