Unlike the comedy or improve stage, in the natural world, mimicry isn’t entertainment; it’s a deadly serious game spanning a range of senses — sight, smell, and hearing. While some try to survive, there are some who mastered this art and some of the most striking visual mimics are butterflies. Many butterflies become noxious and unpalatable to predators by acquiring chemical defenses from plants they ingest as caterpillars. Other butterflies mimic the ‘aposematic’ or warning colouration and conspicuous wing patterns of these toxic or just plain foul-tasting butterflies. Some pretend to be a venomous snake or the ever-vigilant owl or simply a dead leaf.
Did you know that female butterflies are excellent mimics? As male butterflies need to sport bright colors and patterns to be preferred by the females o the species, they cannot afford to be dull like the females. However, they are careful not to be a bird’s meal when they are posing around. The female butterflies however are slightly heavier due to the eggs they carry and need to find out ways of disguising themselves as more powerful predators or dull, dead foliage.
The main predators for butterflies are the birds and so apart from acting in a sex-specific manner, natural selection on mimicry could also act differently on the different surfaces of the wing. Since upper wing surfaces are exposed during flight and are likely to be spotted by birds in flight, one would expect that the upper surfaces would be better mimics than ventral wing surfaces. This meant that the lower sides of wings are slightly more dramatic than the top! This is simply that bird predation on butterflies at rest (when their wings are folded and the undersides are visible) is a very strong driving force on mimicry.
This article is a part of #MastersofDisguise from Plant Science Atrimed. Check our other interesting facts on our blog or follow us on social media today.
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