The moth Malacosoma castrensis (Lasiocampidae) is commonly found along the Northern Germany coasts, the habitats of which are mainly represented by salt marshes subjected to sea level variations. Surprisingly, terrestrial caterpillars can withstand many hours of being flooded by seawater. The ability to withstand periods of submersion in a terrestrial insect raises the problem of respiration related to avoiding water percolation into the tracheal system. In the present study, we investigated under laboratory conditions the role of water-repellent cuticle structures in oxygen supply in caterpillars of M. castrensis submerged in water. For this purpose, air-layer stability tests using force measurements, and micromorphology of cuticle structures using SEM and fluorescence microscopy, were performed. A plastron appeared when a caterpillar is underwater. The stability, gas composition and internal pressure of the plastron were estimated. The plastron is stabilized by long and scarce hairs, which are much thicker than the corresponding hairs of aquatic insects. Thick and stiff hairs with sclerotized basal and middle regions protrude into the water through the plastron-water interface, while substantial regions of thin and flexible hairs are aligned along the plastron-water interface and their side walls can support pressure in the plastron even below atmospheric pressure. Additional anchoring points between hair's stalk and microtrichia near the hair base provide enhanced stiffness to the hair layer and prevent the hair layer from collapse and water entering between hairs. The advancing contact angle on hairs is more than 90 deg, which is close to the effective contact angle for the whole caterpillar.
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