Enemies Like This

Yesterday had a theme, and it was this: mimicry.

Mimicry is the similarity between one species and another. And there are just as many flavors of mimicry as there are means for animals to sense the world around them, referred to as modalities. As animals, we humans have several of these as well. We perceive the world through our senses, which includes the visual modality, chemical (smell/taste) modality, or auditory modality. Of course there are others.

But what I want to convey here is that mimicry can exist within any one of these modalities.

The Titan Arum I wrote about yesterday is a great example of chemical mimicry. It mimics the putrid smell of rotting flesh to attract its carrion-eating pollinators. It benefits from this mimicry by being pollinated. As for the pollinator? It’s been duped into responding to the deceptive signal because that chemical scent mostly means a meal or site for laying eggs is close by.

There’s also auditory mimicry, for which the superb lyrebird is the master dj. I saw a talk on these magnificent birds yesterday, and I learned that they can incorporate into their calls a remix of over a dozen different songbirds, not to mention opossums!

In the cuckoo-host system I mentioned in a previous post, the colorful egg mimics of the cuckoos are a form of visual mimicry.

Here’s another:

Planthopper, Siphanta acuta, mimics a leaf (Wiki Commons)

Got predators? Not a problem – just mimic a leaf to avoid being perceived and subsequently eaten!

Sure, plant-mimicking animals seem silly (albeit effective), but what happens when the tables are turned?

Ophrys speculum, the Mirror Bee Orchid; photo taken in Portugal, Algarve, in March 2004 by Carsten Niehaus (Wiki Commons)

This orchid mimics a female bee, which is not so silly if you’re a male bee. He’ll think he’s landed on the sexiest female on the flower patch, only to discover that not only is she not a female, she’s not even an animal!

Never you mind though. The male bee will be duped into mating with it. While this kinky, plant-animal mating will go nowhere for the bee, it will serve as a way for the orchid to be able to mate (not with the bee, but by spreading its pollen when the bee moves to the next deceptive orchid).

There are countless other cool examples of mimicry. It abounds in nature. The question for you to think about is this: what have you mistaken lately?

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