July 12th, 2014 |    mangotree

As John Locke said, “We are like chameleons, we take our hue and the colour of our moral character, from those around us:”

The next time you brush away that “stick” it may be an insect dazzled in its borrowed designer jungle outfit for its very survival. In nature, different members of a species have evolved to copycat another member of a different species. In the field of entomology this is called mimicry. I was in the Peruvian Amazon in 1996 and saw many examples of mimicry. What a fascinating discovery this was. There were numerous butterflies who seemingly were ”pretending” to be leaves, non-venomous snakes that look like venomous snakes to avoid being eaten, etc. and just think in the world of homo sapiens how many try to wear or be someone-else for fun and gain…like the Elvis Presley looks-a-likes and sing-a-likes.

In nature there are three types of mimicry, Batesian, Muellerian and self-mimicry. Batesian is named after Henry Walter Bates, a British scientist who studied the Amazonian Butterfly. This type of mimicry is seen in the case of two or more specie members who look alike, but only one is harmful, with spines or stingers of toxic chemistry. The look-a-like has no defense, but uses his copied looks to appear to be the harmful species. In Costa Rica, commonly known examples would be the coral snakes and the Fer-de lance with their counterparts, the fake coral and the fake fer-de-lance. Most humans and animal predators will not take the time to check the accuracy of the colored stripes or diamonds patterns of each respectively. Unfortunately, out of fear, the human kills both.

Mullerian mimicry, named after German zoologist, Fritz Mueller occurs when two unpalatable species mimic each other. Trial-by-eating seems to cement the learning of the predator. Neither is a gourmet treat.

Self-mimicry occurs when an animal has one body part that mimics another body part. Having an eye pattern on a wing gives the butterfly or moth a chance to survive by startling a predator with false information. That second or two of hesitation on the part of the predator can be life-saving for the prey. The tan eye patches of the black and tan dog is another example, protecting the eyes of the dog from mostly bird predators.

Why and how has this happened? This is a good example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”. Those best designed by their markings and habits are the most likely to survive. This is of course the end-game. The reason for mimicry or camouflage is safety, survival and pro-creation. In nature every advantage increases an animal’s chance of survival and then of course reproduction. This is the biological reason. Another reason is special adaptation to be able to find food.

The OSA Peninsula and area surrounding the South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is one, if not the most bio-diverse on the planet. A walk through one of the many forest walks could yield many examples of mimicry or camouflage, but you probably won’t see them yourself. The ability of the animal to blend into the environment is at the root of its survival.

Some can change their coat with environmental changes. The move from summer to winter snows causes the Artic Fox to change from a darker coat to a white coat. This type of change is due to an animal’s hormones that shift with temperature differences and the production of different biochromes. In some animals this occurs with dead cells such as hair or fingernails and in others like reptiles, amphibians, and fish these changes in color occur in living cells that are either deep or superficial. Other animals change color with differences in diet.

In the chameleon species of Madagascar many colors can be expressed at once and it has been found these change with and express mood. Being solitary creatures, when two meet, part of deterring the other is to show menacing colors. The defeated one will adopt a pale-gray color and will leave the territory. If a chameleon is attacked by a predator, its color turns reddish with brown and yellow stripes, as their predators (snakes, mammals) do not distinguish colors well.

It has been erroneously ascribed to chameleons that they hide their true feelings by changing their colors. This is backwards. To be a chameleon is to show your true colors.

Another type of camouflage is misrepresentation, or becoming like an inanimate object. A good example of this is the walking stick,…my favorite. While it can be easily seen it is not seen by others as anything other than a stick.

A few rules of the road:

1. Making yourself a bright poisonous color seems to add bonus points to your chances of survival.

2. Bright colors usually equal venom.

3. A solid color all over is not one of nature’s rules.

Changing your appearance may give you a better chance of survival than using your weapons of defense. Here’s where being ignored works for your best interest.

Some times being fooled is just ok and for the good of all, especially when you have lost your own progeny as with this mother tiger. We can change or add stripes.

By Rosemary MacGregor

506 2785 5300

Tags: mimicry, survival, SUSTAINABILITY