Beyond Your Backyard: Meet the camouflaged looper

I recently read a blog post by Chris Helzer about the camouflaged looper caterpillar (Synchlora aerata) and I am obsessed! I cannot believe that nature just got even cooler!

Camouflaged loopers are caterpillars that decorate themselves with bits of flowers and pieces of plants to disguise themselves while they’re foraging on flowers in the prairie! They do this so well that they end up looking like an extension of the flower. This unique behavior sparked a friendly, nerdy camouflaged looper competition. My biologist friend, Mike, and I are determined to find one this summer.

For those of you who don’t know, I am competitive. And I mean super competitive. There are no participation trophies over here. So because I’m determined to win and win hard, I’ve done what any reasonable ecologist would do: research. Loopers eat a variety of plants so as they move from flower to flower they change their camouflage to blend in with their new surroundings. They overwinter as a larva and complete their life cycle the following year when they do their ‘hungry hungry caterpillar’ routine, eventually pupate, and emerge as a wavy lined emerald moth. They mate, lay eggs, and start the cycle all over again. Best I can tell based on the flowers people have seen them on (and a consult to my entomologist friend—no that is NOT cheating, it’s using your resources), I should be able to have a fairly decent chance of finding them as a caterpillar in mid-late summer.

Other than that there isn’t a great deal that is known about these curious caterpillars. Which isn’t really surprising considering we expect there are millions of species we haven’t yet discovered yet and invertebrates, like these loopers, is the group we know the least about. The best way to help, is to keep those eyes peeled (as my mom would say) and start looking for insects.

There are all kinds of stories playing out right under our noses if we take a little time to explore and discover. Who knows? You may even beat your friend in a little prairie competition and get a pack of cupcakes out of it like I’m hoping to do when I trounce Mike.

Learn more about the looper and see pictures of them incognito:

Bug of the Week

The Caterpillar Lab

Butterflies and Moths