It's a tough world out there in Insect Land. Either you are hunting for something to eat, or something is hunting to eat you. Just surviving can be a challenge. That's where some bugs get inventive. We see insects that look like sticks or leaves, some are the color of the flowers they prefer and then we have the Synchlora aerata, the Camouflaged Looper, or the caterpillar of the Wavy-lined Emerald moth. The caterpillars of this small moth are masters of disguise and create their own camouflage from the plants they snack on. The ability of an insect to blend in with the surroundings is called crypsis. This is no coincidence, since like the similar word 'crypt, it is derived from the Greek apokruphos which means secretive or to hide.

These little guys are your classic inchworms or loopers. They are members of the vast Geometrid family, which when we look at the Greek origins of this name is quite descriptive. Geo means 'earth' and metron means 'to measure', so even the ancient Greeks noticed the little mathematicians. Its little feet fore and aft that give it that iconic inchworm movement when it 'inches' across something. The problem with that is inchworms are a favorite food of many birds, so it takes some creativity just to stay alive. Like a Special Forces soldier, these caterpillars make use of the materials they find around them to blend in to the garden. Chance are, unless you are paying close attention, you'll never notice them. These crafty critters pick bits and pieces of plant material and attach it to their bodies with wisps of silk, blending perfectly with their surroundings. They are especially fond of flower petals and tiny seed pods, so when you do spot one, it looks like a tiny, weirdly shaped blossom waving in the breeze, which is a perfect disguise to fool hungry birds. This caterpillar even goes as far as to refresh the camouflage when the plant material starts to wilt and fall apart. The one in the image on this article header was in my oregano patch, but they can be found on many types of plants, especially the Asteraceae family. The inchworm goes through a few molts over several weeks and finally spins a cocoon and pupates. The little Wavy-lined Emerald moth emerges. This is a small, night-flying moth that is often attracted to light. I found this one on my garage door early one morning. The males are guided to the females by pheromones, they take care of business and the cycle starts again.


It is amazing the lengths that some insects go to just to survive and unless you are one of those people who like to examine your garden's inner workings, you'll never be aware most of this natural drama. Take the time to sit close and enjoy nature. Pay attention to the small things. There's a huge difference between enjoying your garden at 20 feet and 2 feet. If you don't do both, you're missing out on some of nature's finest creations.

Find this insect and others in our BugFiles database.