Melvin is an avid reader and a retired chemist after working for a major pharmaceutical company for 32 years.
Mimicry, as defined from an evolutionary biology perspective, is the similarity of one species to another which protects one or both. This similarity can, in some instances, be in the appearance of a plant or a plant part, such as the flower. This type of mimicry is called "cryptic mimicry" as demonstrated in the above photo and is the focus of this article.
Many animals in the world use this type of mimicry to improve their odds of survival. These animals, typically insects, are capable of imitating the appearance of plants or their parts. Even some higher animals are also capable of using mimicry of plants to survive in their habitat.They have evolved into the appearance of plants through thousands of years of evolution.
Some features of plants imitated by these insects are the physical characteristics that make plants the way they are, such as rigidity, coloration, texture, and even the shape of specific parts of a plant like the petals of a flower or a leaf at the end of a twig.This is the most common form of mimicry used by animals to limit themselves as prey. They avoid becoming the prey by mimicking anything in nature, such as trees and flowers.
Mimicry By Coloration
Mmicry of plants by insects basically can be categorized into two types: the simple type which involves using coloration to imitate the color, pattern, and texture of the plant, such as the bark on a tree. The other type of mimicry are those considered to be complex. This type of imitation by insects involves more than just coloration. The appendages of these insects have evolve into elaborate shapes to imitate the appearance of the flower or the leaf of plants.
Coloration is one of the simpler ways some insects and higher forms of animals use colors and patterns to imitate a specific part of a plant. Praying mantises use this type of mimicry to blend in with portions of a branches or twigs on some wooden plants. They often remain in a motionless pose for an undetermined amount of time as the appearance of small twig sticking out from a branch of the plant. They will stay still until an unsuspecting insect come within their reach and grab it for food. Do you see the praying mantis in the photo below?
Here is another photo of a praying mantis using coloration as a way to mimic a brown, speckled small stalk. The praying mantis appears to be a part of the dead-looking plant stalk. In the insect world praying mantises are the undisputed champ of plant mimicking. They do this better than any other insect in the world. They are so good at mimicking, that one variety of praying mantises, in the photo to the right, have evolved to mimic the appearance of a black ant. He definitely has an obvious advantage to catch his next meal, but at the same time he can become a meal for ant loving predators.
Some higher animals like owls use coloration to mimic the bark of trees where they build their nest. To the right is an example of an owl using the coloration of their feathers to blend in with the patterns of the bark on the tree for protection from predators. It is virtually impossible to spot this owl from a distant.
Geckos and chameleons use mimicry by changing the coloration of their skin to imitate the appearance of the leafy parts of trees where most of them are generally found. They primarily use coloration to blend into trees to hide themselves from predators. The gecko below resembles a brown leaves on a tree branch for protection from it predators.
Mimicry By Form
The appendages of some insects have evolved into the shapes of plant leaves or parts of a flower to improve their survival in the wild. This type of mimicry can result in some complex and elaborate imitations of plants. The walking leaf or leaf bug found in southeast Asia and south Asia, is a good example of mimicry in this manner. It is one of many insects that use shapes of plant parts to protect themselves from predators and if you look closely at the picture, you will even noticed bite marks on the edges of the leaf camouflage on the bug.
Some praying mantises, specifically the flower pray mantis or orchid praying mantis, also use this type of mimicry to disguise themselves as a flower. They were first documented by an Australian journalist in 1879 on a trip to Indonesia.
In the picture below they use mimicry to look like an innocent looking flower. The mimicry serves two purposes, it protects the praying mantis from predators and it allows the praying mantis to catch his meal effortless.
Another good example of insects using mimicry for protection is the thorn bug.They have evolved to mimic the thorny portions of plants to elude their predators. The thorn bugs mimicry is so convincing even humans would not touch the plant that they are on. These bugs are generally found feeding on the sap flowing out of stem where they pierced it to attach themselves. If there is more sap than they can handle, the excess is concentrated down to honey dew, which in turn attracts ants. As a result, the ants protect the thorn bugs from predators. This is a classic example of symbiosis, two different organisms interacting with each other for survival. One more fact, the thorn bug belongs in the in same family of bugs as the more familiar and noisy relatives, the 17-year cicadas and 13-year cicadas.
Finally, katydids are always hiding somewhere among plants to catch their next meal. They use mimicry by appearing as part of a plant, in this case as green leaf. The last photo below is one of a Lichen katydid found in Ecuador. It one of the best example of an insect imitating a plant's form or shape, the characteristic form of a lichen plant. He is one of the most evolved case of mimicry in the animal world.
So the next time you are walking around out there near shrubs, flowers or even a tree, you might see a something on that leaf or three that is not quite right and say, "Is that really a plant?" Especially if it starts moving.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on April 09, 2014:
Raymond, thanks for the comment. It is amazing how well some of these insects use mimicry to look like plants to survive.
Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on April 09, 2014:
Creepy buggers. Sure I can't sleep after watching those fabulous photos. :-) Voted up and pinned the photos!
Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on April 08, 2014:
Genna East, thanks for your comment and for reading my hub.
Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on April 08, 2014:
This is a fascinating read, and the photos are stunning. I was especially taken with the lilac praying mantis…extraordinary! Voted up and shared.
Melvin Porter (author) from New Jersey, USA on April 05, 2014:
Thanks FlourishAway for your comment and for stopping by to read my hub. Yep, some of these you do have to look at them twice before you finally see the bug.
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 05, 2014:
Great examples, Melvin! For some of them I had to really stop and take a second look. Voted up +++ and sharing, pinning.
cheeluarv on April 01, 2014:
A very interesting article with exceptional photos. Voted up.