Monday, September 27, 2010

Animal Mimicry-- The Art of Deception

Mimicry is an art.
Human seeks to mimic animal call, other humans, a certain repertoire for the purpose of hunting, defence, or simply to entertain. But even a seasoned mimicry artist of our world would have paled in comparison to some of the masters of mimicry of the animal kingdom.

For them, mastering the art of mimicry is a matter of life or death.

A Stick Insect. Image:

Most animals mimic to defend themselves. Some to attract mate, and some, for example chameleons
and alligator snapping turtles mimic(or camouflage) for food.

An Alligator Snapping Turtle. Image:

Yesterday I read this article about a phorid fly, Vestigipoda longiseta, from southeast Asia, that mimics ant larvae.


The long “grubworm” part of the body is simply the enormously elongated and unpigmented abdomen of the adult. This has all evolved from an ancestor that looks pretty much like the flies you know.

You can imagine why natural selection would favor this resemblance: the ants tend and feed the larvae, and mistake the flies for their own brood. It’s a lifetime of free lunches! The ants also protect the flies and carry them (like they carry their own larvae) when a colony is on the move.

An adult of V. longiseta being carefully carried by an Aenictus ant. Image:

Why can’t the ants detect these intruders? Well, they’re not terribly harmful, getting just a bit of food from the colony, so there’s probably not strong selection to weed them out. Ants, of course, have pretty bad vision, so they probably can’t see the intruders as different from their own brood. There’s probably chemical mimicry going on here as well: the hydrocarbon molecules on the fly’s cuticule may well resemble the compounds on ant larvae, so that the ants, who “taste” these hydrocarbons, are fooled by chemical mimicry.

Another master of mimicry that I would like to introduce to you all is the Mimic Octopus. Read my previous post~

A Mimic Octopus. Image:

And another one which really amazes me is the Superb Lyrebird. I remember watching a video about the mimicry power of this bird when I was in Form 2, and I thought it was fake. Given the handicapped technology of that time, and the level of maturity of the audience, I was unable to record the episode for further review.

A Superb Lyrebird.

Nevertheless, I found this video on youtube yesterday. Watch as Sir David Attenborough (Sir David Attenborough is a fantastic naturalist; down-to-earth, full of knowledge, a titan of science) relates the ability of this bird to mimic the call of every other birds, including other sounds it hears: chainsaw, camera shutter, cars... FOR REAL!

Now that's the real master of mimicry =)

A planthopper mimicking a leaf. Image:


Caterpillar mimicking a snake to scare off birds. Image:

Dead-leaf butterfly. Image:




  1. I really love this page because it's very informative..



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