Camouflage is an often employed survival tactic in the insect world, but a tortoise beetle larva has one of the more unique approaches to disguise. It hides under a shield of debris composed of previously shed skins and fecal matter. To a would be predator, the tortoise beetle larva looks like bird droppings or some other distasteful pile of debris.
The larva has a fork-like structure at the rear end of its abdomen. These prongs curve back over the insect's body. When the larva molts, its head emerges from the old skin first. When the molt is complete, its old skin is left attached to these anal forks. The insect's excrement is added to these shed skins forming a "fecal shield". When disturbed, the tortoise beetle larva will often wave this shield at would be predators.
This particular larva is probably a Golden Tortoise Beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata) which ranges throughout most of the United States and Canada. Both lavae and adults feed on the leaves of various Convolvulaceae (bind weed, morning glory, sweet potato) leaving the leaves riddled with small holes. It was found on bind weed.
Here is a photo of an adult Golden Tortoise Beetle.
Sources and additional information:
Garden Friends and Foes
Bug of the Month
Insect Information: Tortoise beetles
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