Welcome Back to the Lab!
By now, you’re probably familiar with some of our camouflage experts here at MBHI: our walking sticks and praying mantids are popular Bug Ambassadors that have perfected the art of blending in. But camouflage isn’t limited to looking like a leaf or a stick. Many arthropods have evolved ingenious ways of avoiding becoming lunch. So here are a few buggy tips on blending in.
Look like something that can bite back
Many moth species are famous for their “eyespots,” which can fool predators into thinking the moths are a larger animal than they actually are. But you can’t reach adulthood if you become a prey item as a larvae, so some caterpillars have developed eyespots of their own. For some, like Hemeroplanes triptolemus, pictured above, they’ve developed entire false heads. If you’re having a hard time making heads or tails of this caterpillar, the “snake head” is actually the underside of the caterpillar head (if you look very closely you can spot the caterpillar’s legs).
Change with the seasons
Nemoria arizonaria is a somewhat common moth species in the southwest, but was only recently discovered to be one species and not two. This species exhibits seasonal dimorphism in its larval stage, meaning that the caterpillar will look like two entirely different bugs depending on when you catch them – in the spring, you might catch a catkin caterpillar (which I promise is in the photo above, it’s just extremely hard to see) but in the summer, you might catch a twig mimic. The morph the caterpillar grows into depends entirely on its diet; in fact, UM’s own Dr. Erick Greene studied this type of seasonal dimorphism in Nemoria arizonaria and published his findings in Science in 1989.
Look like something completely disgusting
As a bug wrangler, I deal with a lot of poop. As a dog owner, I deal with a lot of poop. As a nature enthusiast, I look at a lot of wild animal poop. Poop doesn’t bother me. Usually. Bird poop though. Bird poop bothers me. And bird poop mimicking spiders, like the Mastophora phrynosoma pictured above, kind of gross me out.
Mimicking bird droppings is not reserved to spiders, either. There are bird poop caterpillars, bird poop moths, and… bird poop frogs? Nature is gross.
Until next time, thanks for visiting the lab!
Bug Wrangler Brenna