In the wilderness, survival isn’t assured without a certain level of ingenuity. All animals, including insects, do whatever it takes to live another day, most interestingly through the use of mimicry. These creatures can imitate plants or even other animals so expertly that their would-be predators and prey can be easily deceived. The most interesting thing about this tactic is that it can be used for both protection or predation. In these five examples, insect mimicry is deployed primarily for defensive purposes.
Some metalmark moths of the genus Brenthia have developed a fascinating strategy for insect mimicry. Along with black eye spots, their wings possess tails that are bent at a sharp angle. When threatened, the moth raises its wings and takes on the appearance of a jumping spider. The angular wing tails, which are feathered, resemble the spider’s legs. In addition, the moth will move about with a jerking motion like a spider.
Along with spiders, bees and wasps are also useful targets for insect mimicry. The hoverfly or flower fly is a helpful pollinator that has developed this to a fine art. Found throughout the world, hoverflies not only have the characteristic yellow and black stripes but can hover in mid-air like bees. Some members, like volucella bombylans, have hair like bumblebees. They even imitate the stinging action if caught.
Another imitator of stinging insects is the hornet moth. Found in Europe, this moth has both the yellow and black markings and clear wings of hornet. Its insect mimicry also include the ability to fold its wings down and dart about like a hornet.
Some insect mimicry takes place only during part of an insect’s life. The snake head hawkmoth caterpillar is the perfect example. As the name implies, the tail section of this caterpillar as the head of a snake. This clever mimicry not only features the rounded triangular shape of a snake’s head, but also the eyes and sometimes the appearance of scales.
The female of this type of firefly uses subtle insect mimicry. It flashes the mating signal of the Photinus firefly to lure in males, at which point it makes a meal of them. This has earned it the nickname ‘femme fatale firefly’.