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Desert Diary


Mimicry is powerful protection, and there are multitudes of ways it's used in nature. Camouflage is one, merging into the background and thus escaping notice. Almost anything that one might expect in a natural setting has been copied by natural selection by one or more creatures. Most of us are familiar with insects that mimic sticks, but other multi-legged creatures also mimic leaves, flowers, and even bird droppings.

A different approach is that of the Batesian mimics, those tasty, harmless critters that look like foul-tasting or dangerous animals. What predator wants to take a chance? But it's not only the harmless who mimic. That there's safety in numbers has long been proven out by well protected animals that sting; wasps and bees flaunting bright colors, usually some combination of black and yellow, orange, or red. The predator who makes the mistake of attacking one has learned to leave alone everyone advertising that they're dangerous. Even behavior can be copied; many a harmless snake vibrates its tail and looks dangerously like a rattlesnake, though a Milquetoast at heart.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, National Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, 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.