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Leafmaw are terrible monsters. Evolved from hydras or octopi (which developed to live on land), they possess the Mimicry enchantment, but unlike Octoplop, lack the ability to mimic anything but bushes. Those descended from hydras have a toxic sting; their touch paralyzes prey. Those descended from octopi lack venom but are much stronger.

The thing is, Leafmaw need a predator to keep them in check, as their oddly specific Mimicry has developed over time into full-blown hybridism; Leafmaw are part monster, part bush. In other words, they can produce offspring like normal monsters do, or they can reproduce as bushes do, through seeds or cuttings. Plus, their camouflage makes them highly effective predators against most creatures that naturally eat bushes, except maybe black bears.

However, while trying to decide on roles for the giant insects I plan on putting into Alendyias, I realized one of them could be an ideal predator for Leafmaws: giant caterpillars. Not only are there carnivorous caterpillars, but regular caterpillars are also pretty famous for retaining toxins from the plants they eat, like the monarch caterpillar.

However, even assuming these giant caterpillars exist, having them adapt to eat Leafmaw is pretty daunting. So, my question is, How Could Giant Caterpillars Come to Prey On Leafmaw? Or in other words, what conditions would it take to make giant caterpillars work as a Leafmaw predator?

Specifications:

  1. Answers should account for the traits that would make giant caterpillars an ideal Leafmaw predator, and what conditions could see those traits fully realized.

  2. Answers should also account for giant caterpillar's cons, what would make them less than ideal predators of Leafmaw, and if giant caterpillars seem an unsuitable candidate as a Leafmaw predator, well, I'd appreciate if answerers suggested another alternative.

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it's probably possible, but it will make your forests spookier.

Ultimately, by how your leafmaws behave and act and what they're made of, I'd say that the biggest requirement you need for a leafmaw predator is simply an omnivorous digestive track. Being part animal, part plant, your leafmaws are essentially a large, land version of an octopus posing as a rock or part of a coral reef, except that some variants have paralyzing tentacles and they can spread through seeds and by breaking off parts of themselves.

This fact means, that, at the end of the day, your average caterpillar might not be a good pick. Not only are they adapted to an herbivorous lifestyle, meaning they could have trouble in eating the entire creature (which is necessary here, because if I got it right these things can reproduce like starfish and the last thing we want is something that just turns them into a bunch of pieces that ultimately end in new organisms and doubles their population), they're not used to or very competent at dealing with their food fighting back in ways other than foul chemicals and poison. If anything, you'd probably be better off looking at carnivorous caterpillars, since it's usually easier to adapt a carnivore to include plant matter than it is to adapt a sluggish herbivore into a competent omnivore hunter.

The problem with carnivorous caterpillars however is that they're ambush predators that normally disguise as parts of leaves and trees, which wouldn't be too bad if leafmaws, unless I got your description wrong, actually relied more on the environment itself. However, they often stand alone, not being necessarily close to any trees or walls the caterpillar could be perched on, meaning that they'd often need to actually go after the leafmaw, thus requiring the less-than-athletic caterpillar to act like a pursuit hunter.

Ultimately, since they come from hydra and octopuses, it's good to take a look at what eats those creatures and see what traits we definitely want:

1-venom resistance. Much like how leatherback turtles can effortlessly eat jellyfish and ratels can eat venomous snakes, your predator will need a natural counter to the venomous variant of the leafmaw. Be it completely immunity or the ability to survive after passing out, your predator needs to be able to deal with the venom.

2-strength/size. A key trait seen in most octopus predators, they're often at least a little larger than them and strong enough to be able to win against them in a wrestle. Morays, dolphins, birds, sharks, Bobbitt worms. All are often bigger (or at least longer) than the octoous and most are at least somewhat stronger in comparison.

With these 2 main traits in mind, it would be fairly easy to make use of larger bears as predators to these creatures, relying on their sense of smell to identify the leafmaw. Many bears, including the mighty grizzly bear, are omnivorous and have a good sense of smell. By relying on them, on larger extinct species or on dire variants you'd only need to add in some venom resistance to make them effective predators for leafmaws (the fact the initial defense mechanism of every leafmaw is its camouflage could make them fairly easy prey, especially if they will not or even cannot easily escape quickly).

but giant insects aren't off limits here and your woods can use some extra nightmare fuel, so let's try to make the caterpillars work

the only way I'd see a caterpillar efficiently preying on leafmaws would be to take an old friend as the base, changing it to make them able to digest plant matter like they once could, adding in the venom resistance (or even allowing them to reuse it, in case at least some leafmaws aren't resistant to the paralyzing venom of the hydra variant) and increase it in size exponentially. By exponentially, I mean making them go from mimicking a stick/twig in a tree to mimicking an actual tree trunk. With this and by giving the square cube law the cold shoulder (sorry mate), we could make something that can fit the bill well enough.

Much like the Bobbitt worm and it's ancestors, these giant predatory caterpillars would stay still, with the main difference that they'd bury their lower end into the ground to better mimic the roots and trunk of a tree and give themselves a better grip on the soil they'd need to remain perched on. Once something came close enough and triggered their long, but thin sensory hairs exposed near the ground, it'd lunge at it with surprising speed, immediately hoisting it up and beginning to dig in. The venom resistance would ensure the caterpillar could eat unimpeded and the size difference would ensure the leafmaws couldn't brute force their way out, as the 6 spiked muscular legs would make sure to keep them in place as they are eaten, most likely alive, by the thing.

To better elaborate how it'd normally work in a documentary-esque description: Your average leafmaw would be at a risk every time they decided to move to somewhere with higher chance of catching food, because all it takes is for them to get too close to the wrong "tree". Should they get within the caterpillar's attack range (which naturally vary depending on the thing's size), it would almost inevitably trigger the sensory hairs by simply walking over them (remember, this caterpillar's legs and a portion of its rear remain buried with its hairs barely sticking out, and thus something with enough weight stepping over these portions of the creature would be enough to signal that something is there), which in turn would immediately let the caterpillar know where the leafmaw (or whatever is causing the disturbance) is relative to themselves. This would allow them to quickly turn their long body around and stab the leafmaw with its spiked legs while rearing them up back into its straightened resting position, already digging in on the newly caught meal. The caterpillars' sheer size difference and venom resistance would mean they'd be able to resist nearly all of the leafmaw's attempts at escaping. Note that, unlike an adapted bear that would actively hunt the leafmaw and much like the leafmaws themselves, these hunting caterpillars are much more passive, being themselves ambush predators, but simply occupying a higher level in the food chain. As a result of this however, these caterpillars would likely be more at home in more densely packed woods where they can easily blend in.

Now: the pros and cons of such a creature existing:

Pros:

  • these creatures are already known to be fairly efficient and pretty successful predators, and their lack of reliance on sight means they wouldn't be fooled by the leafmaw's camouflage.

  • much like their real counterparts, these caterpillars can also prey on other creatures, meaning they could keep other monster populations in check.

  • if their strength also increases linearly with size like in the gigantos, their adult form might be able to serve as a decent form of transportation through the air

Cons:

  • being ambush predators, these caterpillars would rely on their prey getting close enough, meaning that they won't be ideal if what you want is something that actually chases the leafmaws

  • being an insect that's gigantic in size, they'll need either severe modifications to their anatomy or a fair bit of magic to work.

  • Being a caterpillar means these things are infants. They'll need very large hideouts in order to safely begin their transformation into adults. Your world will need either giant trees or safe caves for them to cocoon themselves. You'll also need to worry about how you'll feed the species of mini mothras that will exist in Alendyas (colossal trees and giant flowers might be needed).

  • Their ability to prey on essentially anything big enough means your humans would now have yet another reason to never let their children play in the woods. To better illustrate my point I made use of my less than stellar drawing abilities and the help of my new original character little Timmy:

enter image description here

So summing up: can caterpillars work as leafmaw predators? If your giant insects are just as capable as their tiny counterparts, then probably yes, we can make caterpillars work so long as we rely Firstly on their carnivorous brethren and make the necessary adjustments in terms of venom resistance as well as their overall size and strength, although they might face problems in later stages of their lifecycle.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great job, I appreciate your creative and thoughtful answers! However, I have to wonder how exactly tree-worms would work as a Leafmaw predator. Would they wait for a Leafmaw to come close? Or in other words, how's their hunting strategy? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Nov 6 '21 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias I think it has more to do with the hiding spots Leafmaw take. Near a tree is safer and squirrels pass through often. $\endgroup$ Nov 6 '21 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias like I said, these caterpillars, much like the leafmaws themselves, would need to rely on camouflage and wait still like a real tree until their prey got close enough (something they'd tell by their hairs being triggered). Essentially, they are predators that ambush other ambush predators. The main flaw with their overall strategy is that they rely on a habitat with other trees and that their prey doesn't bother to look up often (unless they too have adapted to make their clawed upper body look more like a dead tree, maybe they're long enough to actually not need such camouflage) $\endgroup$ Nov 6 '21 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ Or, perhaps the smaller Maceworms can eat the Leafmaw who come near them, and if they can't find Leafmaw, maybe they can use an inchworm-like stride to hunt them down? Just a thought. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Nov 6 '21 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias you call the shots. It all depends on how the magic works in your world and how you want these creatures to interact with one another. For all intents and purposes, there's nothing stopping you from making these tree-mimicking caterpillars simply a later stage of development of the mace worms prior to their metamorphosis into adults. I simply got what we already have and tried adapting it just enough so it could serve as a predator for your world's most murderous bushes so far (though it might actually be a viable option). $\endgroup$ Nov 6 '21 at 18:15
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Consider hammerhead sharks and their hunting strategy.

Hammerheads unlike the great whites don't rely as much on strength and speed to catch their prey as much as their incredible senses. Sharks are known for being able to smell blood from a distance, but the hammerhead is that much greater. The wide shape of their head gives them a significant advantage with sight, smell and electroreception. Animals that would otherwise be undetectable under the sand aren't safe from hammerheads as their electrical impulses (the one thing they can't hide) gives them away. In other words if you shiver you are dead. This paired with their wide faces gives them a 360-degree electroreception, making hiding and escaping near impossible.

How does this translate to giant killer-caterpillars?

Consider this; your giant caterpillars move by bouncing on the ground, which for such large creatures would make them easy to detect. Leafmaws are stationary and firmly attached to the ground, which means that like snakes they can detect these vibrations. Having gotten a heads-up the Leafmaw will have time to move to another location or stay still to not give away its disguise. This creates a few interactions:

  1. The Leafmaw flees well in advance, possibly escaping from the hungry caterpillar. If all goes well its predator will have gone in an other direction.
  2. The Leafmaw moves away but gets spotted, giving away its disguise and so the caterpillar starts giving chase. Being larger the caterpillar has the advantage and will close in on the unlucky Leafmaw, unless it hides in an enclosed space.
  3. The Leafmaw stays completely still, hoping that it won't get spotted. However as Leafmaws aren't truly bushes their scent would be different. Or their breathing gives them away. Or their thermal signature (if they are warmblooded).
  4. The Leafmaw fights for its life, trying to bite and sting the caterpillar to death. However being larger the caterpillars thick skin and blubber makes it immune against the attacks.

Either way the Leafmaw is only safe if its camouflage or venom are effective against its potential predator. If by chance a giant caterpillar comes face to face with a Leafmaw it might already be well enough adapted to prey on it. Specializing into a Leafmaw predator would require 1. highly developed senses of some kind, smell, heat, carbon dioxide emitted by the Leafmaw could give it away 2. Resistance against Leafmaw venom either due to an immunity to it, a thick hide or just its sheer size.

Digesting a Leafmaw will be a bit tricky due to it being part plant, but my guess is that there's no problem. Meat is the highest quality of protein sources so even if the giant caterpillar can't digest plant food anymore it would (like a bear) only eat the meaty part of its prey. You may find discarded leaf appendages on the ground, signalling that both Leafmaws and giant caterpillars have been present. Possibly the caterpillars have learned that spreading Leafmaw parts makes them multiply, so they have more to eat in the long run. Instead of gobbling them whole they might shake them violently to scatter leaves, before swallowing them.

Why hunt living bushes in the first place? The answer: they are not fast and their various reproduction methods makes them abundant enough to be a viable source of food that other predators can't get to. Giant caterpillars specialised to hunt camouflaged prey will tend to be on the smaller side compared to their peers, making them underdogs who rely on easier but hidden prey.

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  • $\begingroup$ Definitely a great answer, gave me some excellent food for thought! This answer covers just about everything! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Nov 6 '21 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias Oh thank god! I was just in need of positive feedback. You just made my day. $\endgroup$ Nov 6 '21 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ Glad to hear I helped! It really is a good answer, very well thought out, and I will definitely be using parts of it, so thank you for the answer! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Nov 6 '21 at 15:39
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Well - Butterflies tend to lay their eggs on plants - and your giant caterpillars might be "parasitic" caterpillars from eggs laid on leafmaw. Rather than killing leafmaw, in small numbers and regular sizes they mostly eat "dying" and less healthy leaves acting almost like those birds that eat parasites off bigger prey. However as a result of magic, accumulating in their tissues, they got massive, eating more than the leafmaw can manage, and emerging as massive firebreathing butterflies.

While the 'giant' butterflies can and do lay eggs, something the size of a dinner plate, or bigger is going to have trouble landing, and a healthy leafmaw may be able to pull off the larger eggs. The danger is when a small, 'normal' unmutated butterfly lays normal sized eggs. The rapidly growing mutated caterpillars weaken the leafmaw enough that their larger cousins of mutated stock can lay eggs. At this point, there's less food, so the survival rate of the mutants is smaller.

As mutated generations go, and caterpillars and moths get larger and larger, the Butterflies mutate into a "predatory" cycle, which eventually include stinging ovipositors, allowing them to hunt down, and lay eggs into a leafmaw.

Giant mutant caterpillars are tasty, and tend to get eaten by forest creatures, so... there goes the circle of life

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, thoughtful, interesting, good job! I like how your answer includes both ecology and evolution! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Nov 6 '21 at 15:18

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