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Insect mimicry

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN AN INSECT DISGUISED AS A LEAF?

Maybe a stick that walks has caught your eye or you've seen a green-spotted yellow beetle crawling among bright yellow spring flowers. What is the advantage to this kind of disguise? Some insects and spiders use their body color as camouflage to either hide in wait for prey or to hide from predators. Did you know that a species of crab spider called goldenrod spider (Misumena vatia) can change body color from white to yellow depending on the color of flowers it is visiting? Mimicry is another adaptation that also can help disguise an insect. You may already know that the orange and black colored pattern of the Viceroy butterfly mimics those of the Monarch butterfly, a trait that may keep birds from eating them. There are also species of bee fly (Bombylius spp.) that mimic bees. These flies are nectar feeders, a trait that helps with plant pollination. They also use their disguise to parasitize solitary bee ground nests. Plants exhibit mimicry as well.

The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) not only looks like a species of bumblebee, it also releases a set of chemicals called pheremones that attract male bees looking for female mates. This sneaky attraction helps with orchid pollination. Lithops are succulent plants native to Africa that resemble rocks and have a body shape that helps them disappear from predators as well as adapt to their desert-like surroundings.

When you are out in nature this spring, take a closer look at the plants and flowers and see if you can discover an insect or plant mimic. There are many surprises in nature just waiting to be discovered.

— Stephen Brueggerhoff, former Public Programs Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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