There's a unique and interesting garden visitor that you may overlook when going about your business. Many creatures rely on color, texture and stealth for camouflage and others develop an unappetizing taste or odor to fend off predators. The caterpillar of the Wavy Lined Emerald creates its own disguise by utilizing bits of flowers and leaves from the plants it feeds on. Since it is so peculiar, it even has its own common name, similar to the Tomato Hornworm. The common name is quite descriptive and fits it well and the little Camouflaged Looper has the distinction of being one of the very few creatures to employ a tool to aid in its existence.
This tiny little caterpillar could be easily overlooked even if it didn't play ‘dress-up'. Most individuals are less than an inch long (2.5cm) and they slowly make their way among plants and flowers in the typical fashion of the familiar inchworm. That is because it is an inchworm. Caterpillars in the family Geometridae all exhibit this interesting manner of propelling themselves and are collectively known as inchworms. What sets this little guy apart is the way it attaches bits and pieces of its dinner to its back.
This is a sly little caterpillar, because it is effectively invisible when sporting its floral costume. By using petals from the plants it is munching on, predators tend to overlook it and grab a less crafty victim. The Camouflaged Looper tends to prefer composite flowers, such as those such as Rudbeckia, but it does like Liatris and Solidago. I also have a healthy population living happily in my Greek Oregano. The easiest way to spot one is to look for little pieces of flower petals that move. It uses a silk-like substance to attach the bits to its back and apparently a new costume is created each day, because it discards it as soon as the petals wilt.
When this odd little creature pupates, it becomes the Wavy Lined Emerald moth; a tiny green moth found throughout most of eastern North America. This member of the Geometridae family is the only one in the Northern Hemisphere that exhibits this interesting camouflage technique. The adults are nocturnal and are drawn to lights at night. They are never present in enough numbers to be a garden pest so it is perfectly fine to enjoy them when you find them in your garden.
It is fascinating to learn about the living things that inhabit your garden and instead of automatically destroying any insect you do not recognize, I hope that you'll embrace the diversity of these creatures. We have an amazing world and it is fun to get up close and personal with it!
Find this bug and others in our BugFiles.