Masters of disguise: the art of appearing something else

Orchid mantis

Have you ever walked in a wood thinking “something is watching me but I don’t see what…”? No it’s not the trailer of an horror movie, don’t worry. It’s just nature playing tricks on you!

Wildlife is so addicting because of its multitude of colours and forms. But behind the aesthetics, each characteristic has a more or less defined role for each form of life. And sometimes this characteristics are the limit between life and death, between predation or starvation, between mating or solitude.
Camouflage is among the most important of these features. Many animals rely to mimicry to protect themselves or their spawn, like many birds and amphibians for example. The mossy frog (Theloderma corticale) is a true master. The whole body is sculptured to resemble a bunch of moss and lichens, with hundreds of warts and a striking coloration. It lives near humid crevices in Northern Vietnam and it’s almost impossible to spot it when it sleeps. Only the eyes could betray it when in activity at night, but it has another trick in its pocket. Once it’s molested by a predator (or a disrespectful photographer), it acts like it was a dead, mummified frog. Not a good lunch indeed!
Vegetal-like animals are everywhere, leaf crickets and grasshoppers, stick-like insects… all these animals evolved together with their habitat to disappear in it.
There are many other types of defensive mimicry. The Batesian mimicry is one example of how stunning nature can be. Batesian mimics share the same warning colours (called “aposematic”) of other venomous or unpalatable species, without really being dangerous. They’ll so be protected by the fear evoked by the “real ones”.
Other animals rely on mimicry for predation purposes. The Orchid Mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) is an Asiatic species that takes its common name because of its nymph’s body shape. Each portion of the body and the whole coloration is “designed” to be a copy of orchid petals. The camouflage is so impressive, that the mantis can ambush insects standing on a real orchid flower, or even going on a stick and mimicking the whole flower by itself!
This is just a bunch of examples of how all the forms of life can evolve deeply complex attributes to increase their survivorship and their mating success.

Man itself is able, to rely on mimicry. This discipline is called Biomimicry and it studies the different and best fitted nature’s ideas to apply them to human technologies and life behaviours in a sustainable way. One of my preferred example is the spider’s silk. Many industries are trying to emulate the stunning features of this extremely strong, elastic and light material. A new synthetic spider’s silk could be ten times more resistent than steel and 70% more than kevlar, not a small improvement indeed!
Robotic eyes based on the spider’s eye, harmless paints based on natural pigments, new water collecting panels based on desert beetle that collect water from the air or self-cleaning substrates based on the lotus leaves. These are just some of the new improvements that are being made thanks to nature’s biggest ideas. We just have to keep an eye on it and preserve the biodiversity from which all these discoveries come from.