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  Section: General Zoology » Animal Defense Mechanism
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Caterpillars that Mimic Sankes

The Discoverers of Mimicry
Insects and Batesian Mimicry
The Mimic Octopus
Other Batesian Mimics
Mimicry in Mammals
Müllerian Mimics
Caterpillars that Mimic Sankes
The Monarch Butterfly’s Story

Caterpillars that Mimic Sankes
From a predator’s point of view, caterpillars are packaged meals—soft-bodied, protein-packed morsels. Ants, birds, monkeys, and other animals feed on them. caterpillars have evolved a wide array of defenses to repel them. snake mimicry is one of these defenses.

The tiger swallowtail caterpillar can trick predators with its large eyespots.
The tiger swallowtail caterpillar can trick
predators with its large eyespots.

Many caterpillars, moths, and butterflies have patches of bright color shaped like eyes that can be flashed at a predator. the sudden appearance of eyespots can startle a bird or a similar predator long enough to delay its attack and give the insect time to escape. eyespots also help some caterpillars pull off a convincing imitation of a snake.

the caterpillar of an elephant hawk-moth, for example, has a scaly pattern on its body and big eyespots near its head. when it is threatened, it tucks in its head, which makes its eyespots bulge. suddenly, the caterpillar appears to be a watchful snake.

Another hawk-moth caterpillar found in south America mimics a tree-dwelling viper. it turns into a snake by relaxing its grip on a branch and raising its front end. then it puffs up its body just behind its head and turns sideways. these actions make the front of the caterpillar look like a triangular snake head, complete with eyes, scales, and small pits found on the face of a viper. the caterpillar will even jab at a predator as if it were going to bite.

Caterpillars of some swallowtail butterflies also seem to mimic snakes. A swallowtail caterpillar’s plump front end sports large eyespots that look as if they are staring directly at a predator. this visual trick works even if the predator moves from one side of the caterpillar to the other or sneaks behind it. some scientists, however, think these caterpillars may be mimicking bad-tasting tree frogs instead.


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