Here is a camouflaged looper. It hides from its enemies by fastening petals onto its back.
The camouflaged looper counts bee balm among its host plants. That means the mother camouflaged looper can lay her eggs on bee balm, knowing that when the eggs hatch, the caterpillar will be able to eat it.
Caterpillars are picky. They can only eat certain things. This is because most plants are toxic to most animals. Try grabbing a leaf at random and eating it. It will taste bad.
Insects, like the camouflaged looper, can only survive because they have adapted to get around the toxic chemical defenses of their host plants.
The monarch caterpillar is adapted to ingest (eat) cardiac glycosides, the toxic chemicals found in milkweed. Cardiac glycosides will cause cardiac arrest in most animals, but not the monarch, because they are adapted to be able to process these chemicals.
The Juniper Hairstreak butterfly’s caterpillar is adapted to eat beta thujaplicin, the toxic chemicals found in red cedars, their host plant.
So, insects that eat leaves are very picky. That’s why we need to plant what they can eat. The only way we can provide for wildlife is to plant a diversity of native plants because that’s what it takes to support the diversity of wildlife that characterized Kentucky’s landscape in the beginning.
Cultivating this diversity is good for everything and everybody. We literally cannot live on this planet unless we support other living things.