She chanced upon lovely squiggly lines decorating the stems of Sporadanthus ferrugineu. and wondered who might be the artist responsible. Opening up stem after stem, she discovered amazingly thin, long thread-like larvae of a reddish orange colour, and the legend of Fred the Thread was born.
Fred has no legs, but he does have a hinged head-capsule (a ‘flip-top’ head) to allow him to eat his way along inside of the very thin stem. No entomologist (insect scientist) could work out what type of insect the Fred larvae belonged to; lepidopterists (moth and butterfly scientists) thought they were Coleoptera (beetles); coleopterists (beetle scientists) thought they were Diptera (flies); no dipterists (fly scientists) could be found to comment, even with the aid of Malaise traps.
Eventually Corinne and a lepidopterist colleague reared the beasties through to adulthood, and lo and behold, they were indeed moths (Lepidoptera)! The moth was named Houdinia flexilissima from its very thin flexible larva, and its remarkable escape from the tight confines of the Sporadanthus stem.
Fred the Thread
I have a friend (his name is Fred)
He’s thinner than a cotton thread
His colour is an orange-red
He doesn’t feed on jam or bread
But Sporadanthus stems instead.
Such narrow tunnels must he tread
He needs a hinge inside his head
To give his jaws the room to shred
The food that is his home and bed
And stop himself from dropping dead.
Now when our friend is fully fed
And knows the time has come to shed
His final skin, a sense of dread
Begins to filter into Fred:
How fast, he thinks, the time has sped!
And what a sheltered life he’s led!
He hopes he’ll have some outdoor cred
And won’t be thought of as inbred.
He sloughs his skin from A to Zed
And there’s a pupa in his stead!
Three weeks have passed, and it’s incred
ible to see the adult Fred,
A mothy person born and bred
To look like that on which he’s fed.
He shows an admirable ded
ication to his art, his sed
entary posture leaving ed
ucated mothmen ruby-red,
The effort of locating Fred
Causing a rush of blood to head
Resulting in potential med
ical emergency and bed
With cooling drink and favourite Ted
Until delirium has fled.
To summarize, he’s Fred the Thread,
He’s red and has a hingèd head
His head is used to shred his bed,
His bed’s the food on which he’s fed,
His bed is red and I am led
To think the redness of the Fred
Reflects the bedness of the red
I mean the redness of the bed—
The bed he shreddeth with his head
Until the Fred is fully fed
And sheds the skin he has to shed
To flee the bed that must be fled
To lead the life that must be led
To woo the wife that must be wed
To father further Freds of Thread.
Then Fred can smile and drop down dead.
I’ve said the things I wanted said.
ROBERT HOARE: SIX-LEGGED THINGS AND SCALY WINGS