Here a snake, and two insects, use
Color, patterns, and shapes to confuse.
A fly pretends that he is a hornet 
By using similar colors to adorn it.

Use this opportunity to …

  • talk about how organisms use color (and pattern and shape) to pretend to be something that they are not 
  • explain that when they do this, they are harder to see, or maybe possible predators decide not to  risk being hurt – would you know that the first insect is not a hornet?

‘Pretend’ adds to  the pages on Camouflage and  Warning about how color is used.   The three examples here are examples of how color is used to mislead other organisms – especially predators.  In Warning  there are pictures of a hornets –  insects that can give you a painful and nasty sting.  One (and many others) use strong contrasting (aposematic – see Warning) colors (black and yellow) to let possible predators know that they should back off if they don’t want to get hurt.   The Fflower flies (also called hover flies) are completely harmless flies, but use the same colors as the hornets.  Hopefully, possible predators will think – ‘Oh!, that’s a hornet, I better not get too close.’  Lots of people act frightened of hover flies, so the trick works.  You can distinguish these hover flies / flower flies from hornets in the way that they fly, in the number of wings (hornets, bees and wasps have 4; flies have 2); and by the antennae which are short and stubby in hover flies but longer and more dangly in hornets (see the pale faced hornet in Warning).  This one is, we think, an Eastern calligrapher (Tosomerus geminatus) but there are about 6000 different species of hover flies, so we are not sure.

Mimicry among snakes

Also, a harmless king snake fakes
The colors of venomous coral snakes
Red touches yellow, you’re dead, fellow.
Red touches black, you’re okay, Jack.

Snakes – venomous or not

This old drawing shows several types (species) of snakes with a banded red, black, and yellow.   Two of them are venomous and very dangerous, but one is not.   The snake at the top is one of the venomous ones. It is the Sonoran Coral Snake (Micruroides euryxanthus).  You’ll find it in the Southwest of the United States, for example, in Arizona.   The one below, and pointing left, is the Harlequin or  Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius) – it is also venomous, but occurs in the southeast of the US.   The snake at the bottom is a Scarlet King Snake (Lampropeltis elapsoides). It is not venomous.  It also occurs in the southeast. 

So, imagine, you are out hiking in Florida, and your eye catches a banded red/black/yellow snake.  What do you do.  The most appropriate thing is NOT to try to work out if red touches black; but to shout ‘Eek!!!’ or similar and jump away.  That is because you err on the side of caution … you presume that what you have seen is a threat … and get yourself of what might be harm’s way.  That is what mimicry is all about.  It is a trick played by many kinds of organisms.  Think twice. 

And talking of thinking twice, you may ask why are snakes ‘venomous’ but not called ‘poisonous’.  To call something poisonous is to say, if you eat it, it will poison you.  Something that is venomous produces a substance, a venom, that if it gets into you because you get bitten or stung will cause you harm, perhaps kill you.

Giant leaf insect

Color and shape creates the belief
That this stick insect is a leaf.

Colored green to be the same color as a leaf, the legs and back of this Giant Leaf Insect (Phyllium giganteum) are shaped to also look like a leaf.  The primary benefit is that possible predators would not recognize this as an insect (more nourishing food) but think it is a leaf (not very appealing as food).  There are more examples of organisms that use tricks with color to be harder to see on the Camouflage page.

More examples … can you find any more examples of organisms that look like something they are not in this book. 

If you have more ideas, please let us know below.

Nature Reader colors web Pretend

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