Yet another marvelous case of camouflage

If you don’t know it already, I’m a sucker for mimicry and camouflage in animals. Who is not amazed by the varied ways animals have evolved to resemble other animals, inanimate parts of the environment, or to possess other traits that deceive predators or prey? And yet, with all the cases we know, even more ways of being deceptive keep coming to light.

This is one of them, just posted by the estimable Alex Wild on his insect/photography website Myrmecos (photographs taken by Adam Lazarus). It involves the misdirection of predators achieved by evolving an “upside down” body morph. Alex’s notes:

A predatory bird aiming at an apparent moth body will find little more than the empty space between the butterfly’s hindwings, giving our upside-down trickster a chance to escape.

As best I can tell this is a common mapwing, Cyrestis thyodamas. I’m not a Lepidopterist though, so take this ID with a grain of salt.

[UPDATE: I think Wild made an error here, as at least one reader noted. The common mapwing is a butterfly, not a moth, though Wild implies the latter.]

If you saw this on your wall at a distance, you’d naturally assume that the head of the beast was at the top. So would a bird!

moth

Below is a closeup of the body. Note how the moth rests upside down, which also misdirects predators. Predatory birds, I suspect, have either evolved or learned to attack the “top” side of a resting lepidopteran, which will provide further misdirection. Note, too, that “upside down resting” is probably an evolved trait, so both morphology and behavior have been subject to natural selection.

butterfly

h/t: Matthew Cobb

16 Comments

  1. AK
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    The bird has that small of a margin of error when attacking?

    • Notagod
      Posted June 26, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      This might be wrong but I would guess that the bird would aim for the perceived head and that the bug would normally fly forward if it had time to react just prior to being caught. That would work most of the time for the bird as it would have the length of the bugs body as a margin of error. This butterfly though, would be moving in the opposite direction and likely would decrease the birds success rate, increasing the butterflies possibility to have more offspring.

  2. Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Ok, that is just awesome.

  3. Hempenstein
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Mapwing, maybe. But I think Tiffany Lampwing (Tiffanylampwing?) would be better.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 26, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Is it a moth? It has antennas like a butterfly…

      • Dominic
        Posted June 26, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        I am sure it is a butterfly mimicking a moth.

        • Posted June 26, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

          You’re right that it’s a butterfly. I’ve added that to my post.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          A predatory bird aiming at an apparent moth body will find little more than the empty space between the butterfly’s hindwings, giving our upside-down trickster a chance to escape.

          I read that as Alex alluding to what the predator sees–and apparent moth. Note the use of butterfly later on.

          • Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            I agree. Alex hasn’t made a mistake as your update suggests, Jerry.

            The butterfly has also evolved the moth-y wings-at-rest position.

            /@

  4. eric
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Quite cool. I particularly like the ‘false leg’ pattern going out past the fake body edge.

    • marcoli666
      Posted June 26, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I saw that as well. I thought false head lepidopterans tend to use tails to mimic antennae, but this one seems to use the hindwing tails plus stripes of border color to mimic the spread legs of moths. Not sure if that is novel, but sure is cool.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    That is really cool!

  6. Dominic
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    This bit of research about the wing spots of butterflies may interest readers –
    Eyespot display in the peacock butterfly triggers antipredator behaviors in naive adult fowl
    Behavioral Ecology 2013, 24 (1) 305-10
    http://sciencenordic.com/butterfly-four-eyespots-spooks-big-predators

  7. Russ
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting. I’m assuming, in the wild where there is one source of light coming from a single direction, the hindwings would cast a shadow in the “empty space” on what ever surface it is resting. A predator may confuse this darker shading for a head, further making this adaptation more effective. Although the “shadow head” is not especially prominent in the photo shown, it may just be that the numerous light sources around the office, from multiple directions, are enough to keep the would be shadowed area sufficiently lit.

  8. Mark Joseph
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    This is *so* cool.


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