Posts Tagged ‘mimicry’


Locust borer showing characteristic elongate black body with bright yellow bands and elongate red antennae and legs.


There is no more fitting way to mark the end of the goldenrod flowering season than to focus on locust borers (Megacyllene robiniae), probably the most common longhorned beetle in east central Illinois.

Locust borers get their name from their association with black locust trees. Adults feed on goldenrod pollen throughout late summer and early fall. During the evening, the females search black locust trunks for wounds and bark abrasions, the ideal sites for egglaying. Upon hatching the larvae bore into the heartwood of black locust trees. Locust borer species range continues to expand due to increased incorporation of these trees in home landscape design.

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Giant Swallowtail larva found at Kickapoo State Park, Oakwood, IL.


This caterpillar is regarded as both a bird dropping and snake mimic. When viewed head-on (right side of the picture) it looks like a snake, particularly with its antennae (which look like a snake tongue) extended. When viewed from the side, the reflective areas look particularly like a freshly deposited bird dropping.

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Eastern tiger swallowtail larvae found at Kickapoo State Park (Oakwood, IL).

The larvae pictured above are the fourth instar of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The first three instars are bird-dropping mimics. This caterpillar acquires its green color during the fourth instar. The artificial eyespots are on the top of the rearmost thoracic segment.

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Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) are the most common butterflies feeding on our decomposing apples.

Wing eyespots are common on butterflies. Their role is controversial, though many experiments indicate eyespots are used defensively in many species that feed on fermenting fruit. The idea is that insects flash the eyespot pattern at potential predators, who are startled by the sudden appearance of what appears to be the face of a potential predator, and then move quickly to find easier prey in a safer location.

The line of reasoning continues with determination that this function is most useful in species that feed on fermenting fruit. Fermentation produces alcohol, which leads to inebriation and slow defensive response time in those decomposing fruit-feeding species.

I decided to follow this up at home using remnants of fruit from our excessively producing golden delicious apple trees. I stepped on a few of the decomposing apples the previous day, and went out the following afternoon to photograph species attracted to the decomposing fruit and observe notable behaviors.

Flies, butterflies and honeybees were the predominant insects encountered. Interestingly, all of the butterfly species feeding on the fermenting fruit had wingspots. Most rhythmically opened and closed their wings while feeding.

About fifteen minutes into my photographing my wife let the dogs out, who of course were intent on seeing what I was photographing. In each case I observed, feeding butterflies approached the dogs face on and flashed their wings open several times. If the dogs continued in their direction, the butterflies flew off, albeit somewhat slowly.

No experiment, but a consistent observation…

Classic defensive posture? I was behind this buckeye as one of our dogs approached from the opposite direction.

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Jumping Spider Silk

Clicking the image allows you to see the double strand of silk this spider began producing as it jumped off this freshly picked crookneck squash.

While jumping spiders do not build webs to catch prey, silk is essential in their efficient maneuvering and survival.  When it jumps, each jumping spider attaches a silk line to the point of jump origin.  If they miss their target they can climb back up and try the jump again.

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Coloration and body shape much more closely resemble that of a wasp than a fly...

This conopid fly fly is often found in combination with pollinating wasps. These flies specialize in pollination of plants in the mint family.

Little is known about most of the species in this family, though the larvae of this species are internal parasites of solitary bees. The females attack hosts during flight, often knocking them to the ground, where the fly lays an egg between the abdominal segments of the host.

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The yellow-bellied bee assassin (Apiomerus flaviventris) lives in open habitats where it preys on insects associated with shrubs and flowers. Females cover their eggs with a turpentine-like resin, which they gather from plants with their forelegs.

Assassin bugs (Family Reduviidae) are medium to large insects that are active predators. Most are elongate, possessing an obvious “snout” with well developed tubular (piercing-sucking) mouthparts that point backward, originating at the front of the “snout.” As usual click or double-click for varying degrees of magnification.

The majority of assassin bugs are black, brown or gray.

Pselliopus barbari is one of six species of zebra-striped assassin bugs.

A small number of assassin bugs are lighlly built. Note the obvious tubular mouthparts originating at the front of the head.

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A second, equally interesting toothpick grasshopper! Click/double click for image size increase.

Even though this looks like a studio shot it was taken in the field.

I find these toothpick grasshoppers to be stunning!

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Twig-resembling caterpillar (Gordes, Provence, France)

Appearing similar to your surroundings does have its advantages. This noctuid moth caterpillar was feeding along one of the paths to some of the many ruins areas of Provence, France. This cryptically colored larva will eventually become an equally cryptically colored adult moth.

Source: Insectes de France. Michael Chinery http://www.amazon.fr/Insectes-dEurope-occidentale-Michael-Chinery/dp/2082013758/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276609225&sr=8-1

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Hangin' With the Buds! (Kickapoo State Park, Oakwood, IL)

One of the first species collected by my field biology students each fall is the ambush bug (Phymata americana). These small hemipterans are sit and wait predators who grasp their prey with raptorial forelegs and then feed upon their prey’s body fluids using piercing-sucking mouthparts. We find large numbers of Phymata on goldenrod during the fall. They aren’t tremendously difficult to find once you develop a search image. I always thought the markings didn’t seem to mesh well with the greens and yellows of the goldenrod. Suddenly one picture put it all together for me… Double click the image for a larger view.

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