Category: mimicry

Hey , here appear a cute caterpillar and if th…

Hey , here appear a cute caterpillar and if the birds eat the most of them I will extract and try to care and free them … can you give me advices ? It's a "lagarta-cobra "

Hello! I didn’t recognize the name of the caterpillar, so I had to look it up, and WOW! They are snake mimics, and will inflate their bodies to take the shape of a snake’s head! They are found primarily in Central America, although it seems like they can range from Mexico to South America.


Images from iNaturalist User Catta [link to original]

This caterpillar is a young Sphinx moth, and it seems like “lagarta-cobra” refers to the genus Hemeroplanes [link]. I can’t find information on host plants, but if you recognize the plants the caterpillars are found on, that’s what you would want to feed them.

It sounds like you are saving them from the birds. Are they injured? If a caterpillar has a very minor injury, they can survive, but I don’t know if they can survive attacks from birds. If I have a caterpillar who is very sick or seriously injured, the best I can do is to euthanize them by putting them in the freezer. I’m always really sad when I have to do that, but it’s the kindest act when I know the caterpillar won’t survive.

I hope your babies are okay! Thank you for rescuing them!

October 22, 2018


Inktober: Days 4, 5, 6

Bit behind, so I did some quick non-colored outlines. Needed inspiration for the last two, so I went through photos on my phone that aren’t on iNaturalist yet *gasp*

Day 4 prompt: Lacewing.

Drawing is of this bab whom my coworker found in her lab notebook [link to iNat]. I was cradling the sweet bab in my hand as I went to let him go, and he BIT ME!!!

Day 5 prompt: Spots.

This is the tortoise beetle species who loves eating my morning glories. These are the best: they are normally a shiny gold, but when they feel threatened, they withdraw all the fliud in their wings that creates the shiny gold effect, which will cause their bright red and black-spotted bodies to become visible. They mimic lady beetles, which taste terrible, as a way to protect themselves.

Day 6 prompt: Grasshopper

These things are leggy and hard to draw, but I’m pretty pleased with this one! Don’t know species yet, bit should be fairly obvious to anyone who knows their orthopterans.

October 7, 2018 (lying)

Prompts from @six-legs-and-more !

ruthbancroftgarden: Lithops salicola (maculate…


Lithops salicola (maculate form)

Lithops is a large genus in the Ice Plant Family (Aizoaceae), all native to southern Africa. These plants are often called “living stones”, and indeed they do blend right in with the pebbles in the places where they grow. But they put on an eye-popping show when they burst into bloom, as seen here with the maculate (speckled) form of Lithops salicola, which comes from near Hopetown in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. This is very near to the center of the country.


These were my favorite plants when I was a kid despite never actually seeing one with my own eyes, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a photo of one blossoming and they’re so beautiful

@mywildbackyardyt submitted:

@mywildbackyardyt submitted:

The Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus, is one of the largest terrestrial true bugs (Hemiptera) in North America. Come with as I explore the woods searching for one of these awesome giants.

This is an excellent video. First off, wheel bugs are awesome. For a while, all I could find were the nymphs, the adults eluded me (but not for long!). The nymphs are beautiful, but lack the “wheel,” instead you have to look for a powdery-blue bug with red accents (also, they’re huge):

Second off, I love the comparison with the leaf-footed bug. The one in the video is an older Leptoglossus sp. nymph. Interestingly, the younger nymphs are very similar to Zelus spp. assassin bug nymphs:

Leaf-footed bug nymphs are on the top (they are gregarious, meaning they tend to stick in large groups), and the assassin bug nymphs are on the bottom–these are solitary, because they’ll eat each other if they stick together. 

And note, I do have photos where I’m “holding” assassin bugs, like above, but I want to emphasize that I have never picked up an assassin bug, they have always walked onto me. As long as they don’t feel threatened, they are unlikely to try biting you (I think), but be careful if you are going to handle these things! They are true bugs, closely related to the aptly named stink bugs–and like the stinks, they have a scent gland that they will emit a strongly-scented chemical from if they feel threatened. Chances are, a wheel bug will let you know if you’re getting a little too close.

Thanks for sharing your video!

September 11, 2018

@psychicbouquetofstars submitted:

@psychicbouquetofstars submitted:

My friend’s little garden has a little assassin bug in it! I had one last year in my garden and I watched him grow up until he flew away… anyways thought you’d enjoy him!!!

Yes I love him. Assassin bugs are one of my favorite insects (shhhhh don’t tell the moths). I recently caught a cluster of eggs hatching (and the newborns always have a dance party after they squeeze out)[link to previous post]. Your baby is related (I’m pretty sure, anyway) to the Zelus renardii (Leafhopper assassins) I have fairly reliably:

Top left is a very gravid mama, top right is a newly molted baby, bottom two are older babies dooting around. 

Below, a completely unrelated Scudder’s katydid nymph who mimics the assassins!

Thanks for sharing!

September 9, 2018

I’m afraid of spiders, but I wish I wasn…

I’m afraid of spiders, but I wish I wasn’t! Do you have any tips for overcoming a fear of spiders?

Hello, YES I do have some tips!

The first step: figure out what exactly it is you’re afraid of (this might be the hardest part!)
The second step: figure out how to make that thing not scary anymore (through desensitization or knowledge!)

Some questions that might help you with the first step:
Are you afraid of non-living things that look like spiders (spider toys, spider art, photos of spiders), or only actual spiders?
Are you afraid of only living spiders, or also dead spiders and spider sheds?
Are you afraid of spider webs with no spiders on them?
Are you afraid of all spiders, or only certain kinds of spiders (black widows, tarantulas, wolf spiders)?
Are you afraid of other arachnids (scorpions, ticks)?
Are you afraid of insects that look like spiders? What about spiders that look like insects?

Because of the topic, I’m putting all spider photos under the cut at the end—fair warning if you’re viewing this off the dash, the cut might not be present!

If you are afraid of anything that looks like a spider, even a photo, then maybe it’s the long legs that are unsettling for you. Do spider crabs bother you? What about crane flies?


If you are only afraid of living spiders, and are fine with dead spiders, then maybe you’re afraid of getting bitten? Statistics aside (spider bites are very uncommon, I’ve been bitten by fish more often than by spiders, and my house is full of spiders and has only one fish in it), spider fangs are intended to be used mostly on small animals, like insects. Most species would have a hard time getting them into a human, and would only use them as a last resort if they were about to get squished. Did you know that not all spiders have venom? The Uloboridae family contains spiders with no venom gland. The species I see most frequently is the featherlegged orbweaver (Uloborus golomosus), and they are small and fabulous (photo after the cut at the end). Maybe learning about spider fang anatomy will help?

Although I’ve never been afraid of spiders, when there has been something I’m afraid of, learning more about it has been very helpful. In my experience, fear is often the result of not enough information about something, paired with a strong negative emotion associated with uncertainty. It’s harder to get rid of the emotional response, but it’s very easy to get more information. Maybe learning something about spiders that is silly or unusual will make it easier to handle learning things about spiders that get closer to the source of your fear (like fangs, maybe?)—for example, did you know that some orbweavers will take down their webs every night, and in doing so, they will eat the old silk so they can recycle it? And some spider mating behaviors are ridiculous. Look up the peacock jumping spider’s mating dance.

One of my favorite things about the arthropod world is mimicry. Lots of things will try to look like other things, and some of them are VERY CONVINCING! For example, here’s one that fooled me earlier this year!


This is Glyphipterix circumscriptella, a moth which I uploaded to iNat and identified as a jumping spider [link to iNat observation for hilarity] because that’s what it wanted me to think. It doesn’t help that this is the only photo I had and that it was out of focus.

Petrophila moths are another spider-mimic moth (but maybe less skilled at fooling humans!)


And I don’t know if this Sun Moth is trying to mimic anything, but he sure looks like a lynx spider to me!


Some spiders mimic other things, too! There are lots of spiders that mimic ants, for various reasons, and they are always fun to see! I added (horribly blurry photos) of two species (Castianeira trilineata and Synageles sp.) under the cut. If you saw an ant-mimic spider, would you be afraid of it?

I hope I gave you some ideas (and sorry it took me so long to answer you)

September 2, 2018

Warning: Spider Photos Beyond This Point!


Look, ma, no venom glands! Featherlegged Orbweaver (Uloborus golomosus). Check out those furry boots


Castianeira trilineata, an ant-mimic ground spider. Terrible photos, I know, but I saw this spider and I HAD TO GET PHOTOS even if they were bad because LOOK!!!! Here’s a photo of what they look like when competent lucky photographers find them [link].


Synageles sp., an ant-mimic jumping spider. Still pretty bad photos, but you can actually see this one! These spiders will hold up their second pair of legs like ant antennae [link to bugguide]. You can see this behavior in the photo on the left, where you can ALSO see the spider holding up her butt like ants do when they’re threatening an attacker. There are some other species of jumping spiders in the tropics that are even more convincing (it’s ridiculous).

tarantulajelly: eartharchives: bowelflies: th…




there he go!!

For anyone wondering this is the strange caterpillar of a lobster moth, which is believed to mimic other insects for protection!

I love it when I come across things I’ve never seen before :D.


I've been meaning to message you since th…

I've been meaning to message you since the moth appreciation post because like I need to talk/know more about that moth that lays eggs in water? What the f-ing what? That is mental. I didn't know we had aquatic moths! (I currently have lots of Garden Tiger babies at home for a uni experiment. I love my fuzzy babies.)

Hello, Friend! Isn’t that ridiculous?? I only recently learned about Petrophila moths [link], too, and when I read that about their caterpillars, my mind practically exploded. Nature is so weird. But these moths with aquatic caterpillars caught my notice for a totally different reason initially: they are jumping spider mimics.


You can see from these photos that they’re not very large. If you weren’t really paying attention, you may not even notice anything unusual about them. The first time I saw them, I definitely didn’t notice that they were spider mimics. But one night, I went to a talk about moths, and the presenter talked about these and I thought it was awesome! She had a mercury vapor lamp set up outside after the talk for us to see some moths, and a Petrophila showed up. I was super excited! When I went to add the photo to iNaturalist, thinking I’d seen something new, it turned out I had already seen them at least four times.

You may not even be able to see how these are spider mimics. They don’t really *look* like spiders, do they? But remember, our eyes are much different than insect eyes, and we have the benefit of seeing things from far away. We can see this isn’t a spider. But imagine you are a small predatory insect or a spider, and you are in front of this moth looking at it. What will you see?


Jumping spiders above are Dimorphic Jumper (left) and Bold Jumper <3 (right)

Anyway, back to the aquatic caterpillars. I’m sure you know that most moths and butterflies have perfectly normal caterpillars who eat leaves, make poops, and turn into perfectly normal moths and butterflies. So finding out that one type refuse to play by those rules just seems super weird. But is it, really? Or is it just weird because… well, we have an idea of what caterpillars are supposed to be, whether or not that idea is accurate?

For example, look at some other insect orders with complete metamorphosis (they have larvae, pupate, and then become adults). Flies are a huge group. Where do fly larvae live? You know about maggots and food, but what about mosquitos? Those are flies too, and their larvae are aquatic. What about parasitic botflies that grow in animal tissue? What about gall midges who parasitize plants? Caterpillars will grow up in equally diverse habitats (although, I don’t know of an animal parasite… yet). Same with beetles–larvae will live on plants, underground, in water, in wood… 

But let’s look a little closer to moths and butterflies, since most caterpillars are fairly predictable in terms of habitat, and the exceptions aren’t very well known. Here’s a phylogenetic tree showing the evolutionary history of insects. In this tree, branches that are closer together are more closely related.


Note: I found this tree in an image search, but I was unable to locate the original source. I would love to credit it if I can! Let me know if you have seen this in a book before.

In this tree, I have circled the branch including Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). Look at who else is in that circle: Trichoptera (caddisflies). Below are a couple examples of caddisflies. Chances are you have seen them before (they are pretty ubiquitous near ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers!), but had no idea what they were.


Caddisflies are also very difficult to identify. The one on the left is in the Macrostemum genus (zebra caddisflies), but the one on the right… uh… I’ll get back to you on that one.

There are a lot of moths that look pretty similar to caddisflies, so it’s easy to see that they are closely related.


Left to right: Yellow-headed Lichen Moth, Belted Grass-veneer Moth, Bluegrass Webworm Moth

These look so similar, in fact, you may ask how they even grouped them into different orders. This is easy to answer if you know your scientific names AND Greek! 
Moths & Butterflies = Lepidoptera (Lepido = scale; ptera = wing)
Caddisflies = Trichoptera (Tricho = hair; ptera = wing)

Since I have an electron microscope at work (the “nano” in my username refers to my background in nanotechnology), I felt obligated to illustrate this. The white bar on each images shows the magnification. “um” refers to “micrometer,” or 1/1,000 of a millimeter. A human hair is typically about 100 um wide. (If you have questions about electron microscopes, let me know! These things are fun!)

Typical Lepidoptera (Moth & Butterfly) Wing


Above: Images of the scales on an American Snout Butterfly wing obtained with Scanning Electron Microscopy. Compare the scales in the middle of the wing to those on the edge of the wing.

Typical Trichoptera (Caddisfly) Wing


Above: Images of the hairs on a caddisfly wing obtained with Scanning Electron Microscopy. Note the similarities in the how the caddisfly hairs and butterfly scales attach to the wings.

Looking at these images, it’s pretty clear that they are different. But you have to look *very closely* to notice this difference, and when you look even closer than that, you start to see similarities again.

Guess where caddisfly larvae grow up! If you don’t already know about caddisfly larvae, oh boy, they’re fun!


It may be hard to tell, but I took this photo with an underwater camera. Caddisfly larvae build little cases by cementing together stones, pine needles, sand, or a variety of other things. You can sometimes identify the larvae based on what materials they use and what shape the cases are in. An interesting aside: if you raise these, you can get them to build their cases out of whatever you want. At least one person got creative, and I’m happy to see that she is still selling caddisfly jewelry over 20 years later!


I don’t mean to turn this post into an advertisement, but her stuff is beautiful and super interesting. She describes her process and some info about the species of caddisfly she raises on this page of her website [link]. Photo credits go to her–I totally stole these images.

Caddisfly larvae are exclusively aquatic. Moths and butterflies are slightly younger than caddisflies, so they have had more time to evolve their own method of development (mostly on land). I believe the Petrophila moths are one of the older moth genera (but definitely not the oldest!), so they could be like Cetaceans (you know, whales and such who had gone *back into the water* after they realized they were cooler than land mammals).

I have not yet had the honor of witnessing a little baby Petrophila scooting along the bottoms of ponds, eating algae and whatnot, so I don’t have my own photos to share, but there are a couple on their bugguide page [link] (just click the link for “caterpillars” to filter out all the adults). They more or less look like a normal caterpillar, except … a little wetter than usual. The females will go completely underwater to lay their eggs (they will carry a little air bubble with them, apparently). And typically moths don’t live too much longer after laying eggs, so who knows if they ever fly again. I’m sure the fish don’t mind finding them!

I hope I satisfied your desperate yearning for aquatic moth secrets! The closer you look, the weirder nature gets. Jeez.

Posted June 22, 2018 (finally!) 
All photos are mine except the caddisfly jewelry, phylogenetic tree source TBD. Everything was seen in Texas except the caddisfly larva was in a stream near Crater Lake in Oregon.