Meet Mel, the Double Toothed Prominent 1

Meet my friend Mel, the “double toothed prominent” caterpillar.

Mel will become a moth one day and fly away, but for now he must camouflage himself against the leaf of an elm.

Like most caterpillars, Mel has a special diet. He must eat elm because for thousands of years, through natural selection, Mel and his kin have “learned” to get past the chemical defenses of the elm leaf.

Mel cannot eat anything but elm. So if the elm disappears, so does Mel and all his family.

Fortunately, we now have elm trees that are resistant to the Dutch Elm Disease…. this according to Claude Stephens at Bernheim.

But notice how Mel is camouflaged up against the elm leaf.

Mel’s enemies are birds. The thing is … when birds are hunting for caterpillars, as most of them do in the spring when they are having babies, the bird does not look for caterpillars, they look for “leaf damage” caused by caterpillars.

So, Mel has a serrated back to mimic the serrated edge of the elm leaf. He’s telling the birds, “Nothing to see here. Move it along. There are no elm leaves being eaten here. And there are no caterpillars here.”

With the decline of elm trees, many have been replaced by the “Zelkova” tree. The leaf looks similar. But here’s the thing … North American bugs cannot eat Asian tree leaves… and Zelkova is an Asian tree.

As far as Mel is concerned, you might as well have a plastic or silk tree in your yard. It would be just as nutritious.

So … let’s plant native trees so we can have plenty of caterpillars, so we can have plenty of bird food, and plenty of birds and plenty of bugs and all the things that eat bug (like bats and frogs, for example).

If we do this, we will be supporting life itself. Living things do not live in isolation. Living things live in communities. Human beings are no exception.

To find out how best to support the communities of living things in our locality, check out my list of the top 100 plants in Louisville.

The Top 100 Plants for Wildlife

One thought on “Meet Mel, the Double Toothed Prominent

  • Rosemary Bauman

    Great post – sums up the problem with non-native plants very well. I really feel for poor Mel, but hope to see him at BCSNP where we still have plenty of native elms.

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