Mimicry: Two mantids, one cryptic and one aposematic

April 6, 2013 • 12:48 pm

“Aposematic coloration,” as I’ve mentioned before, is a form of self-advertisement in animals that are toxic, distasteful, or dangerous, and the bright colors—often orange, black, red, and yellow—tell the predator to leave the animal alone. (It’s also called “warning coloration”.)

The first brightly-colored mutants would seem to be disadvantageous, as the predator hasn’t yet learned to avoid them and, indeed a new, brightly-colored mutant could attract unwanted attention. There have been various hypothesis of how aposematic coloration gets off the ground.  These involve kin selection (you die because of your bright coloration, but the predator learns to avoid your relatives, who carry copies of your genes), or, in other cases, individual selection (the predator learns without killing you). In truth, we’re not sure exactly how the evolution of such patterns begins.

You can see many examples of aposematic coloration in various animal species on this lovely page (not all the animals are aposematic).

The video below shows a bush cricket escaping an aposematic mantid, only to fall into the clutches of an “orchid mantis” that is cryptic (camouflaged). These babies sit on vegetation all day, looking like a flower (often among real orchids that they resemble) and waiting for a good prey item to fall into their clutches. The prety is often a pollinator that mistakes the mantis for an orchid).  You won’t be able to spot this one until it strikes the bushcricket. (Warning: if you don’t want to see a cricket caught and devoured alive, don’t watch!)

This video is from the BBC series, “Wildlife on One” (you can watch many other videos from the series here).

If you do a Google image search of “orchid mantis,” you’ll find plenty, and they’re amazing. Here are just two:

Hymenopus cornatus, photo by pulsarr (found at deviantART):


I don’t know the species, but this is from 37signals.com:


And while we’re at it, watch a Brazilian mantid pwn a cat. The world’s most bravest mantis!

19 thoughts on “Mimicry: Two mantids, one cryptic and one aposematic

    1. ??? Think that’s why the commentary says ” The Bush Cricket thinks it would make a good meal” and shows the cricket following the mantis????

      1. Yes but Jerry’s description says “The video below shows a bush cricket escaping an aposematic mantid, only to fall into the clutches of an “orchid mantis” that is cryptic (camouflaged).”

  1. The cat & mantis video is epic.

    I can understand the cat curiosity, he is playing as we know they do. And he gets scared when the mantis sticks to his fur, in such a human way I could not stop smiling! (disclaimer – I heave mantis phobia, would have screamed in fear and jumped even higher if it had happened to me!).

    But – what the #%^* is the mantis doing? Taunting the cat? Attacking? It can’t possibly see it as a prey.
    Is it reacting to a predator, following Sun Tzu (attack is the best defense)?
    But, then, fleeing seem to be the safest evolutionary strategy against such a body weigth difference…

    Truly amazing video. Leaves you wondering in so many levels….

    1. Really amazing indeed. I especially liked the hissing noise the mantis’ stiff hindwings made as they rubbed on the pavement (at least that is how I think it made the sound).

      1. But mantises can fly. I know they hate to fly, but geez Louise–I would have thought that the situation called for it.

    2. The mantis is not taunting, but being defensive and pretending to be bigger than it is. If it ran away, it might likely have been overtaken/attacked the back and bitten.

      Mantises are cool. I get a lot of them in my yard, and I don’t think I could allow the cats to attack one while I just stood there taking a video. 🙂

      This next video might make you cringe. Don’t mess with mama.

    1. You are such a fool! How could you think that your pathetic tiger style kung fu could defeat my mantis style!

  2. I love how the mantis displayed its “eyeballs” on its wings to the cat! Beware, kitteh, I iz bigger than u think!”

  3. Hope ceiling cat gets better soon.

    I have a question regarding aposematic coloration and how in the process of getting off the ground a predator “learns.” I understand the initial problem, but my question is about the terms usage here.

    In what sense do you mean learn? I can not see learning taking place in a single generation as healthy predators would not likely benefit from the behavior of the sick or dead predators. I assume you aren’t using learn in the traditional sense.

    I do see “learning” taking place over many generations as predators with preference for aposematic coloration are eliminated. Leaving predators with a preference for the non-aposematic colors, which results in elimination of non-aposematic, and parallel elimination of non-aposematic preference predators.

  4. re: “Aposematic coloration”, how did it evolve?

    Every time you mention something like this, I take it as a challenge.

    Seems to me it would most likely happen as follows:

    (1) The toxicity evolves in prey. The initial toxicity may be a bi-product or side-effect of traits that evolved for unrelated reasons, or the toxin may initially be an offensive rather than defensive weapon.

    (2) The predator is under selection pressure to avoid the toxic prey… its visual system picks up whatever signals it can. This will initially be rather arbitrary, based on more or less accidental quirks of predator’s visual processing. And keep gradualism in mind — could be a very slight preference to avoid certain shades of color, etc.

    (3) Once the predator evolves some discriminating ability, there is now selection pressure on the toxic prey to exaggerate whatever signals the predators prefer to avoid.

    (4) a feedback loop now occurs between steps (3) and (2). There will be a distinct trend towards coloration that is the “opposite” of camouflage — because whatever signals the predator avoids must be distinct from the appearance of non-toxic prey which will always prefer to blend in.

    I think there might also be feedback to step (1). As the prey becomes easier to spot, their is pressure for the toxin to become stronger, so the threat offsets the ease of capture.

    Only after the coloration/toxin association is well established can non-toxic mimics flourish — and they would not last long if the toxic original ever went extinct, as a niche for the predators to ignore the warning colors would immediately open.

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