Insect Defense

figure 37-8

Batesian mimicry is shown by the harmless syrphid fly of the genus Arctophila (a), which looks very similar to the stinging bumblebee of the genus Bombus (b).

figure 37-8

Batesian mimicry is shown by the harmless syrphid fly of the genus Arctophila (a), which looks very similar to the stinging bumblebee of the genus Bombus (b).

Insects have many defensive adaptations that increase their chances for survival. Some adaptations provide a passive defense. One form of passive defense that is frequently observed in insects is camouflage. Camouflage enhances survival by making it difficult for predators to recognize an insect. Insects often resemble parts of the plants on which they feed or hunt for food. For example, many varieties of stick insects and mantises look so much like twigs or leaves that they are easy to overlook unless they move.

Insects that are poisonous or taste bad as a defense often have bold, bright color patterns that make them clearly recognizable and warn predators away. This type of coloration is known as warning coloration. In some cases, several dangerous or poisonous species have similar warning coloration. For example, many species of stinging bees and wasps display a pattern of black and yellow stripes. This adaptation, in which one dangerous species mimics the warning coloration of another, is called Mallerian (myoo-LER-ee-uhn) mimicry. Figure 37-8 shows that the black and yellow stripes of bees and wasps are found in some species of flies, which lack stingers and are harmless. Mimicry of this type, in which a harmless species mimics the warning coloration of a dangerous species, is called Batesian (BAYTZ-ee-uhn) mimicry. Both Mullerian and Batesian mimicry discourage predators from preying on similarly marked species.

Other defensive adaptations of insects are more aggressive, such as the venomous stingers of female bees and wasps. One of the most elaborate adaptations is that of the bombardier beetle, which defends itself by spraying a stream of a noxious chemical. The beetle can even rotate an opening on its abdomen to aim the spray at an attacker.

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