When we first laid eyes on Dynastor darius darius, a serpent-mimicking butterfly larvae with camouflage skills that rival the ninja octopus, we didn't think insects could get any "snakier". But a new video of yet another mimic has us re-ranking the roster of invertebrate illusion masters.

Meet Hemeroplanes triptolemus. Deception level: well over 5,000. 

Image: Andreas Kay

Native to the lush jungles of the Amazon, this crazy creature was caught on film by scientist and wildlife photographer Andreas Kay. Aptly known as the "snake mimic caterpillar", what you're looking at is the early life stage of a rather inconspicuous moth in the family Sphingidae.

"When disturbed, this larva expands the first body segments, mimicking a snake head with black eyes and even light reflections," explains Kay. 

It's no easy manoeuvre: first, the caterpillar must throw itself backwards and twist to reveal its underside, where hidden shades of yellow, white and black are found. Once in position, air is pumped to this portion of the body, drawn by way of tiny holes in the caterpillar's sides (known as spiracles).

As the segments inflate, the caterpillar is truly transformed, now topped by a diamond-shaped "face" resembling that of many venomous snake species. 

If the "deadly" costume isn't enough to deter a predator, the caterpillar might also strike to enhance the effect. 

While many animals use eyespots to draw predators' attention away from the head (a tactic known as deflection), a snake mimic caterpillar's false face is actually located on the same end as its real one. 

"Deflection might not work well for a caterpillar because the caterpillar probably won’t survive if any part of its body gets pierced or ripped off by an attacker," explains eyespot expert Dr Thomas Hossie. "This defence is all about intimidating or startling an attacker who will run (or fly) away instead of risk a lethal encounter with a snake."

Image: Andreas Kay
Image: Andreas Kay
Image: Andreas Kay
Image: Andreas Kay

Without a good defence system in place, sphinx moth caterpillars are essentially energy-rich 'nom-nuggets' presented on a bed of leafy greens for the jungle's predators – so scare tactics like this are common in the group. Some, like our friend here, rely on looks to do the trick, but others turn to sound. 

Perhaps the best example of this is the caterpillar of the walnut sphinx moth, Amorpha juglandis(You're going to want the volume turned up on this one, trust us.)

Remember those spiracles we talked about? It's those same structures that give this caterpillar the power of the "squee".

Back in 2010, scientists at Canada's Carlton University housed walnut sphinx moth caterpillars with yellow warblers (birds known to eat the tiny singers). When the birds attacked, the whistles often caused the avian predators to flinch or fly away. In this case, air is drawn in through the spiracles, then rapidly pushed out, creating the sound you hear.

Hey, if you aren't gifted with a mop of hair on your back like the 'Donald Trump caterpillar' pictured below, you have to get creative if you want to survive ... 

Weird Caterpillars Related Content 2016 06 16