Insects That Defend Themselves by Playing Dead

Bugs That Stop, Drop, and Roll When Threatened

Caterpillar playing dead.
Tiger moth caterpillars curl up and play dead.

OakleyOriginals/Flickr/CC license

Insects use many defensive strategies to protect themselves from predators, from chemical sprays to bites or stings. Some insects take a more passive approach to self-defense, though, by simply playing dead.


Predators quickly lose interest in dead prey, so insects that employ the strategy of playing dead (called thanatosis) can often escape unharmed. The act of feigning death often looks like a demonstration of "stop, drop, and roll," as threatened insects let go of whatever substrate they happen to be clinging to and drop to the ground. They then stay still, waiting for the predator to give up and leave.

Insects that evade predation by playing dead include certain caterpillars, ladybugs and many other beetles, weevils, robber flies, and even giant water bugs. Beetles of the genus Cryptoglossa are known by the common name death-feigning beetles.

When trying to collect insects that play dead, it's often easiest to place a collecting jar or beating sheet beneath the branch or substrate where you've found the insects.

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Your Citation
Hadley, Debbie. "Insects That Defend Themselves by Playing Dead." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hadley, Debbie. (2020, August 26). Insects That Defend Themselves by Playing Dead. Retrieved from Hadley, Debbie. "Insects That Defend Themselves by Playing Dead." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).