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The giant caterpillars in question are carnivorous, about the size of a barrel in width and length (ie. big enough to swallow an adult male whole), and have elongated limbs and mandibles to aid in running and catching prey.

The idea is the exact opposite of a regular caterpillar; small, relatively slow, moves by undulating body (and gripping/pulling/pushing with legs), eats plants-in that these things are large, speedy, don't utilize their bodies as much for motion (instead focusing on legs), and eat meat.

Synopsis:

These giant caterpillars are the result of magically enhanced mutation, and through natural selection, have become fast and aggressive hunters that chase after prey, catch it with their powerful mandibles (which are essentially arms at this point), and shove it into their roughly diamond-shaped bodies.

I know carnivorous caterpillars already exist, it's weird but plausible enough. Giant caterpillars, as giant insects, are a known Acceptable Break From Reality. But giant, carnivorous caterpillars that will chase down and eat people are something else entirely.

Under what conditions would giant, carnivorous caterpillars that chase down and swallow prey whole come to pass?

Additional Information:

  1. The answer is asking why giant, carnivorous caterpillars would evolve to chase down and eat prey instead of camouflaging and ambushing said prey. Greater speed makes sense, given that otherwise giant caterpillars could find themselves vulnerable to predation by wolves and such, but there are armored caterpillars, so I'm not sure what conditions would lead to speeding (rather than tanking) caterpillars.

  2. Chasers (that's what these are called) are Uncommon monsters; you'll see them all the time in a requisite Spooky Dark Forest, while most people will have only heard rumors of them. Basically, they're like the R.O.U.S. in The Princess Bride. They don't encounter humans all that often, and when they do, they generally target them, as humans are registered as 'weak but worth it' by Chaos Sense. Why does this matter? Because going off of the scenario I hope to create, this monster must be:

  • Fast enough a human with pumping adrenaline can't quite outrun it (ie. they can stay just ahead of it, but one misstep and they're caught, it's over)

  • Strong enough to overpower and devour a teenage girl (I know it sounds sketchy, but this is to make a point about us underestimating common fantasy creatures when IRL said creatures, like giant spiders and goblins, would likely kill us, or in other words, this is to apply reality to video-game mobs)

  • Capable of tanking (taking with negligible or non-existent damage resulting) hits from a dagger

So, assuming Chaos Energy makes it feasible for there to be giant, carnivorous caterpillars that tend to swallow prey whole, and that these things are biologically feasible, under what conditions would they evolve?

I'm asking because even with magic involved, natural selection is still a thing, and in order for these things to chase down prey, that has to be a viable hunting strategy.

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    $\begingroup$ "have elongated limbs and mandibles" - so your caterpillars are essentially centipedes? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Sep 23 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ Please edit your post to ask a single question. I can see at least 3: What conditions would cause my critter to hunt and swallow prey? Is my creature biologically feasible? What conditions would cause it to evolve? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 23 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ Didn't you say in your last question that in your world creatures are magically infused with chaos energy. I think that answers 2 of the 3 questions you asked. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 23 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings: I edited, please let me know if it helps. Also, while I know Chaos Energy is a massive handwave, I have to have rules for everything, so I tend to use such crutches only as leaping off points or bridges between otherwise logical ideas. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 23 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ I thought chaos energy mutated creatures. Doesn't being infused with chaos energy either explain or preclude evolution? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 23 at 18:52
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For all the same reasons Centipedes exist in addition to pressures that lead to meat-eating:

  • Animals provide a different sent of nutrients and in different proportions than plants.
  • Caterpillars start eating small animals such as aphids, which allow them to acquire more resources, which allows them to get bigger and therefore better at being a caterpillar [citation needed], which then allows them to hunt larger and larger prey, which then keeps going...
  • Now we have giant caterpillars which actively hunt people!

This assumes a bigger caterpillar is actually better at being a caterpillar! Maybe this magic happens to accelerate this process?

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  • $\begingroup$ It the magic was wrought specifically to create monstrous caterpillars then any caterpillar that is larger/more terrifying is automatically better! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Sep 24 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ To answer your ending question, I actually have Berry Brutes, monsters that are essentially mobile and aggressive fruit, which larger caterpillars could more effectively prey upon and therefore become stronger by gaining their Enchantments. Thanks for the answer, I really appreciate it! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 27 at 15:21
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A plant eating caterpillar won't adapt itself for predating anything, however carnivorous ones just might do.

There's just no way for a slow prey animal to turn into a chasing predator. If it's not fast enough at the beginning it won't catch anything and so nothing will encourage it to be faster. Changing an animal from herbivory to carnivory is also tricky. The most likely place to start is an ambush predator. More like big felines ready that pounce and less like wolves chasing a deer. Here's how it would go:

enter image description here

Consider the Hawaiian Eupithecia a species of carnivorous caterpillar. Its actual legs are used to catch prey while its fake legs anchor it to a surface. It does move like a geometer moth caterpillar making it seem like it's measuring its journey. The advantage with this body plan is that it can lash out like a snake to take its prey by surprise due to its deceptively long range.

enter image description here

This doesn't mean a gigantic version won't be able to run. No, on the contrary it will be extremely fast. Consider the cheetah, which bends and extends its spine each stride.

Now you have giant caterpillars with explosive speed and deceptively long range. Good luck!

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  • $\begingroup$ I really love when these caterpillars pop up. Also a quick heads up: it takes a very specific set of circumstances, such as the lack of active predators for competition and abundance of prey, but both this species of caterpillar and extinct creatures like Thylacoleo are examples that herbivores can indeed evolve into carnivorous predators if the environment allows them to. $\endgroup$ Sep 24 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting, thank you! With proper consideration, this gave me an idea for a new giant caterpillar variant I'll call a Strider, so thanks very much! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Sep 27 at 15:22

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