When mimicry is studied in biology, oftentimes the context is prey mimicking a dangerous species to dupe their predators. For example Batesian mimicry, which is displayed in the classic example of the milk snake mimicking the stripes on the deadly coral snake.
By mimicking this deadly organism the milk snake is then falsely identified and will be left alone. But, predators can also play this game. The Malaysian orchid mantis, found in the rain forests of Southeast Asia, mimics orchids to attract prey in the form of pollinators.
These mantises are the only known species that takes advantage of aggressively mimicking a plant. Mimicry of flowers often occurs in angiosperms, as seen in orchids themselves, so they can get pollinated without producing nectar. But, the Malaysian orchid mantis is the only known example of an insect mimicking a plant in an aggressive way. Aggressive mimicry is when a predator will share features with a harmless model. This then allows the predator to be falsely identified as being innocent to the unsuspecting prey. There are other insects that will imitate a plant in order to be camouflaged, like stick insects. However, these mantises use mimicry in a unique way. It was always assumed that this behavior was meant to attract prey to the mantises, as there was never enough experimental data collected to prove it. This is because the Malaysian orchid mantis is rarely seen in the wild, so obtaining enough data to conclude anything is next to impossible, until now. This experiment used captive orchid mantises to observe this unique behavior. The data was collected in forested areas where they occur in the wild, making it the first experiment of it's kind. The experiment's data supports the assumed hypothesis of aggressive mimicry and showed that the mantises do not in fact exhibit mimicry in the way that stick insects do, to hide from predators. This can be concluded because the mantis was presented in isolation from the orchid in the experiment and pollinators were attracted to it. Actually, it was found that the mantis attracted pollinators at a higher rate than the orchids did.
This distinctive species certainly uses this evolutionary weapon in a one of a kind way. The Malaysian orchid mantis is a great example of the lengths a species will go to in order to survive in a competitive environment.
Carolyn McDonagh (Group B)
Great post, it truly is amazing how these mantises camouflage themselves to look like these orchids, as I was first looking at these photos I didn't even know their was a mantis there. Why do you suppose it is that the orchids with the mantises on them attracted more pollinators? Also do you think that these mantises are having a negative effect on the orchids they inhabit since they eat the pollinators?ReplyDelete
Maybe I wasn't clear on that point. It's not that the orchids with the mantises on them attract more pollinators than ones without, the study concluded mantises by themselves attracted more than the orchids did. In the study, there were two wooden sticks, one with an orchid alone, one with a mantis alone, and a control stick with nothing. This is the way they collected data and it was observed that pollinators were more attracted to the mantis than the orchid. I believe a negative effect wouldn't really be felt by orchids because they are more abundant than these mantises.Delete
- Carolyn McDonagh
Is it possible that this mantis mimicking such flower may not necessarily be predatory? maybe its just some mechanism that the insect does naturally without even knowing its doing it as their brains don't know what mimicking is.ReplyDelete
I had previously learned about mimicry in nature, and specifically that of the coral snake, when i took Alan Richmond's Evolution class but I had never heard of the specific case of the orchid mantis.ReplyDelete
I liked the new perspective about using mimicry aggressively. I know I personally never associated the idea of mimicry with anything but a prey organism hiding from predators. Is aggressive mimicry more prevalent, are there more species that also use this evolutionary adaptation?ReplyDelete
There are lots of other species that use this kind of mimicry. Some examples are the alligator snapping turtle, which uses its tongue (that looks like a worm) to lure fish to their mouths. Another is the margay, which is in the feline family, who will imitate the cry of an infant pied tarmin (a primate species) to lure adults into striking distance. Lastly, most carnivorous plants use aggressive mimicry in different forms to lure insects into them. Many will have ultraviolet light reflecting patterns that mimic those of angiosperms. These patterns (nectar guides) are used by insects to guide them towards their reward, except in these cases to their death.Delete
- Carolyn McDonagh
We recently talked about mimicry in my Bio280 class, so it was nice to read a familiar topic! Do patterns of aggressive mimicry change based on geographical location or climate? Malaysia has rich biodiversity, which I would assume would make it easier for this mantis to camouflage. Would it be different in a less biodiverse location? Thanks!ReplyDelete