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All Lives Transform

Adaptation: Mimicry

Plants Mimic Insects


Mimicry is adapting to look like something else. Mimicry keeps its owner alive. Much mimicry is based in color and visual pattern.

Mimics use three basic strategies: Tricking, Startling, Warning.

Trick Them with Shape and Color!
This fence lizard has adapted to mimic treetrunk color
This little gecko mimics bark
This butterfly's cryptic coloration almost disappears on bark
This narrow-nosed frog finds mud fine camouflage.
This oak-leaf butterfly mimics autumn oak leaves, an unpalatable meal.
This moth vanishes against tree bark.
This caterpillar mimics
a bird dropping.
This butterfly has adapted to mimic a dead leaf, a shape so inedible and common a predator would not notice it.
Another caterpillar mimics a convincing bird dropping on
the leaf it's eating.
This inchworm is a fine mimic of an oak twig. It's hanging on a thread it spun.
This spider makes a superb bird-dropping. Birds are influential.
The hawkmoth IS a dead leaf, tattered and veined.
© Geo. Robinson, CA Academy of Sciences

Some color mimicry is called Cryptic Coloration. The lizards and butterfly almost disappear into the background. Cryptic means "secret" or "hidden," and many animals use cryptic color and patterns to hide. Chameleons and treefrogs are very good at disappearing. The Katydid below easily disappears among leaves. Many animals use camouflage, spots and stripes, to blend into their habitat.

This katydid has adapted to mimic a leaf in both color and shape.
Walking-Stick insects have mastered the mimicry of twigs
This spider mimics bark
with color and visual texture.
Photo © Jurgen Otto

Same spider close up--Amazing!
Photo © Jurgen Otto

Two images of a praying mantis adapted to mimic a leaf. It lurks at a branch tip and waits for something to land. Photos © Lance R. Peck

When some inchworm caterpillars are startled as they eat they are 'scared straight' and mimic twigs or stems. What bird eats a twig?

This little twig mimic should not be surprised on a leaf
This inchworm mimics the stem of the fleabane flowers it's eating.

Trick Them! Play Dead!

Many kinds of animals will play dead if they see no escape. The classic folk name for this is "playing possum." Nestling birds and just-fledged birds will play dead for predators. It confuses them. Predators' attack sequences depend on movement.

pipistrelle bat feigns death
opossum plays possum well
owlets playing dead as a group

hognose snake plays dead

lizard pretending death
spiders are convincing actors

Startle Them with Sudden Eyes!

Predators of this buckeye have many eyes to choose from The Io moth sports owl-like eyes
This odd caterpillar mimics a bird dropping that has eyes.
The Polyphemus moth relies on shadowed eyes.


This caterpillar's head is scary.
The eyes aren't fancy, but they're big & bright
This caterpillar mimics a viper in both looks and movement.
Photo © J.Wetterer
This butterfly chrysalis wards off predators with scary eyes.
Red protruding eyes work for this caterpillar.
Big-eyed caterpillar of spicebush swallowtail, with eyelids
Another spicebush caterpillar hides its true head where its false mouth should be.
The Pygmy Owl face
"Eyes" on back of head


Warn Them! I Taste Bad!


Milkweed beetles warn
with red that they store
bitter milkweed alkaloids
Tiger caterpillars use spines and colors to warn they taste like bitter milkweed.

Milkweed caterpillars store
bitter compounds in their skins
Monarch butterflies contain bitter milkweed they once ate.
This butterfly eloquently claims "I taste terrible!"

Poison dart frogs are both very toxic and have attitude

Compare this poisonous frog's warning with the butterfly above.
This poison dart frog leaves no doubt about his unwillingness to be lunch.
One touch of this skin is very poisonous. Don't leap.
Who would want to eat him, anyway?


Fake Them Out: Pretend You Taste Bad

The tasty Viceroy butterfly on the left mimics the bitter Monarch on the right

Syrphid fly hornet mimic
mantis fly mimics paper wasp
Beefly pretends it is a bumblebee
This bee-beetle stripes its wing-covers to fool.
© R. Haentjens

Plants Mimic Insects!

Plants use mimicy too, not just animals. Orchid mimicry is of both form and chemistry. Many orchids mimic the shapes of certain flying insect females, and at the same time mimic the lure of her mating scent, so the bewildered male arrives and "mates with the orchid flower that looks and smells just right, and in the process pollinates the flower.

Orchid flower mimics bee
bee falls in love

Orchid mimics fly. "Eyes" below "antennae"
are really globes of pollen.

bee tricked by orchid

Pretend You Are a Flower

Carnivorous plants trap insects by offering sweet nectar and scent, just like a flower. But these traps are modified leaves.

Cobra pitcher plantattracts with bright red covered with nectaries.
The fly walks up to the pitcher mouth, sees light through hood windows, hits them and falls.
This pitcher plant offers sweets on its landing lip, and fragrant water below. Notice the down-pointing hairs to keep flies in. In autumn pitchers turn red, strange leaf veins look like ours.
Venus fly trap offers nectar along the edges of the trap
Sundews offer balls of sweet, glue, then close around the prey



Explore Further in Transformation

Transformation over many lifetimes
Transformation within the mind
Transformation of Communities
  Metamorphosis Transformation in one lifetime
Death The Final Transformation
Return to Transformation Index


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