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
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.