More mothy mimicry

This photo may have been staged to accentuate the mimicry of this buff-tip moth (Phalara bucephala), but there’s little doubt that it evolved to resemble a broken twig. It’s another remarkable case of the efficacy of natural selection. Note how its head (a feature that birds often look for) is appressed to the twig to make the moth even more inconspicuous.


The moth, by the way, is European, and the picture comes from a Russian website that I can’t translate, and is courtesy of reader Jim E.


  1. Dominic
    Posted March 6, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Readers may like this 1887 article by EB Poulton I think freely available (?)
    “On the protective value of colour in insects”

  2. Derek Freyberg
    Posted March 6, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    The caption, which transliterates to “maskirovka”, translates to disguise, concealment, camouflage.

  3. Posted March 6, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Once again I am amazed at the art of camouflage. Not only is it made to resemble a broken twig, but the distal ends of the wings are similarly marked. If I were a bird that identified the moth, I might make the error of attacking the ‘false head’.

  4. Merilee
    Posted March 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    How is appressed different fom pressed?

    • Posted March 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      ‘Help, help, I’m being appressed!’

      • Posted March 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Come and see the violins inerrant in the cistern!


  5. Posted March 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    The twig on which the moth is resting appears to have been sawed so it would seem that the moth has evolved to mimic a sawed branch. How often do twigs naturally break clean as if they had been sawed?

    • Posted March 6, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Surely that twig is only a few millimeters in diameter, so “sawed” might not be the best way to characterize it. The squirrels in our yard drop armloads of twigs as they work on their nests, and the bitten-off ends look a lot like this. So maybe there’s some kind of tree-squirrel-moth interdependence represented here?

    • Dominic
      Posted March 7, 2014 at 3:12 am | Permalink

      Er, the pedant in my wants to say “to have been sawn”.

      • Dominic
        Posted March 7, 2014 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        Still a thin snapped twig may well break like that.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 7, 2014 at 3:40 am | Permalink

        And the pedant in me wants to point out your typo…:D

        Dom, we’re rapidly losing our irregular past tense verbs! I routinely hear dived instead of dove, ringed instead of rang, etc. Shined has replaced shone. And in print one sees lead instead of led all the time (obviously a mistaken corollary with the two forms of “read;” but it looks like it’s here to stay).

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted March 7, 2014 at 3:58 am | Permalink

          Interesting. The pedant in me wants to keep the irregular form I was brought up to use, but having struggled in the past with irregular or “strong” verbs in the past while trying to learn a foreign language, I can see a real advantage in regularising (is that a word?) all verbs. Incidentally, I hardly ever see “dove” instead of “dived” in the UK. I think it must be one of these usages, Like “gotten”, which have retained their older form in the US long after they have disappeared from British English.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 7, 2014 at 4:04 am | Permalink

            I’ve had exactly those thoughts–the irregulars I grew (growed?) up with sound much better to me, but new language learning in general would be SO much simpler without them!

            I think regularizing (ha–American spellcheck didn’t flag that) is going to prevail, soon as we old pedants die out.

  6. Bill Gilliland
    Posted March 6, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I like how the moth’s bristles are colored and arranged to look like frayed wood fibers, so the wings look like bark that has peeled back slightly.

    • ammasbhavya
      Posted March 9, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      And the ‘wisps of hair’ or bristles around the branch, particularly under the brown rim, again matching the moth. Glad such bits bring great joy and fascination. Makes me wonder how much is just outside our windows, we’re just too busy to see. Fantastic photo.

  7. Jim Thomerson
    Posted March 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    There are long horned beetles which cut off limbs like that, I’ve seen one in Venezuela cut an inch thick limb off. They lay their eggs in the cutoff limb.

  8. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 7, 2014 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    Is it me, or is the “spot the moth” series becoming easier over time?

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted March 7, 2014 at 4:00 am | Permalink

      Trick question – it’s actually a nightjar.

  9. uglicoyote
    Posted March 7, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

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