In the world of insects, high risk of attack has led to the development of camouflage as a means for survival, especially in the larval stage. One caterpillar may look like a stick, while another disguises itself as bird droppings. Though crypsis may have its advantages, University of Florida researchers uncovered some of the most extensive evidence of caterpillars using another strategy previously best-known in adult butterflies: mimicry.
Insects use camouflage to protect themselves by looking like inanimate or inedible objects, while mimicry involves one species evolving similar warning color patterns to another.
The study in the current issue of The Annals of the Entomological Society of America helps scientists better understand how organisms depend upon one another, an important factor in predicting how disturbance of natural habitats may lead to species extinctions and loss of biodiversity.
"Mimicry in general is one of the best and earliest-studied examples of natural selection, and it can help us learn where evolutionary adaptations come from," said UF lepidopterist Keith Willmott, lead author of the study and an associate curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.
Bright warning coloration has evolved in many insects with physical or chemical defenses and further research into how insects metabolize plant toxins for their own benefit has potential use in the medical field.
"It's very interesting how caterpillars can detoxify a plant's poisonous chemicals and resynthesize them for their own chemical defense or for pheromones," said Florida Museum collection coordinator and study co-author Andrei Sourakov. "We can look at the caterpillars' metabolic systems to understand how they deal with secondary plant compounds, the toxic plant substances used for centuries as tonics, spices, medicine and recreational drugs."
Based on the number of eggs laid by a single female butt
|Contact: Richard Levine|
Entomological Society of America