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)