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Desert Diary

Arthropods/Batesian Mimicry


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Imitation is the highest form of flattery, or so mom always said. It seems she was right, when we take a look at some of nature's tricksters.

Many animals look like something they're really not. Some butterflies, such as our pipevine swallowtails, taste particularly bad due to their larval diet, laden with noxious chemicals. Predators soon learn to recognize their colors and avoid anything with those markings. Other butterflies, such as the tasty black swallowtail, mimic the nasty ones by having matching colors and patterns. Predators find it difficult to distinguish one from the other, so both butterflies are safe.

Another copy-cat insect takes advantage of a bee's reputation for giving a nasty sting. Bee-flies are really just harmless flies that are only distantly related to bees. Still, they look like bees, and their colors encourage us to treat them delicately. After all, how many of us really give a mere fly much respect? But bees are a whole different story. Yes, Mother Nature even fools humans. pen and ink


Contributor: Kodi R. Jeffery, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.