Caterpillars have a great capacity for rapid weight gain, but to reap the benefits of this capacity, larvae must be able to survive in a hostile environment and emerge as adults at the right time of year. In this article, I review examples of growth decisions in butterfly larvae that can be viewed as adaptations for optimized growth performance. These include sex-specific growth decisions that lead to protandry and sexual size dimorphism, fine-tuning of growth in response to photoperiod and temperature, development of alternative larval morphs that mimic the plant structures they feed on, and the peculiar growth patterns of lycenid butterflies that manipulate ants and grow as “cuckoos” inside ant nests. I conclude that growth of an individual can be seen as the sum of several environmentally dependent decisions, which may influence the growth trajectory by changes in physiology, behavior, and morphology.
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Vol. 58 • No. 3