Critter Spotlight: Camouflaged Looper

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Recently while working in my Pollinator Paradise Demonstration Garden I was observing all the bee activity on the lemon beebalm (Monarda citriodora) when I noticed a slight movement out of the corner of my eye on one of the blooms. It took me while to figure out what I was looking at, because it seemed like a part of the flower was moving! Turns out I was observing a tiny inchworm called the camouflaged looper. The camouflaged looper is the larva of a moth called the wavy-lined emerald (Synchlora aerata). It gets its name from its ability to disguise itself from predators: it bites off pieces of the flower it is feeding on and attaches the flower pieces to its back so it blends in with the bloom and is practically invisible to predators such as birds!

And get this: if the caterpillar moves to a different flower with a different color scheme, it swaps out its disguise and replaces it with pieces of the new flower…how about that!

I was so charmed by this curious looking little inchworm and enjoyed taking photos of it as it moved around the bloom. I hope I can spot more camouflaged loopers in the pollinator garden this season…you can bet I’ll be looking for them!

Camouflaged looper on lemon bee balm.

Camouflaged looper on lemon beebalm. Many caterpillars rely on their natural camouflage to hide from predators (for example some look like leaf edges, or bark, or bird droppings) but only the camouflaged looper is able to change its disguise to adapt to different plants! Photo by Debbie Roos.

Camouflaged looper on lemon bee balm.

The camouflaged looper’s ability to change its appearance gives it an advantage by allowing it to feed on many different plants. Caterpillars that are not capable of changing their appearance often specialize on one species of plant where they can blend in. Photo by Debbie Roos.

Camouflaged looper on bee balm.

Not sure where this one was headed! Photo by Debbie Roos.

Camouflaged looper on lemon bee balm.

Camouflaged looper on lemon beebalm. Photo by Debbie Roos.

Camouflaged looper on lemon bee balm.

Camouflaged looper feeding on lemon beebalm. Photo by Debbie Roos.

Camouflaged looper on lemon bee balm.

This one is demonstrating why it’s called a looper! Photo by Debbie Roos.

Camouflaged looper on lemon bee balm.

In this shot you can see the natural coloration of the caterpillar where it has not attached any flower parts. Photo by Debbie Roos.

Camouflaged looper on lemon bee balm.

Can you spot the (very well) camouflaged looper? If they are not moving they are almost impossible to see! Photo by Debbie Roos.

Written By

Debbie Roos, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDebbie RoosExtension Agent, Agriculture - Sustainable / Organic Production Call Debbie Email Debbie N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center
Updated on Jul 20, 2023
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