Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing: 12 Tricky Mimics in Nature

Nature mimicry main

Owl eyes glowing in the darkness of tree branches and a menacing rattle in the leaves are enough to keep predators far away – even if the creatures bearing these characteristics are totally harmless. Batesian mimics are species that evolve to bear the warning signals of harmful species that exist in their habitat, while in Mullerian mimicry, two poisonous species come to resemble each other for added protection. Here are 12 examples, from flies that look like bees to false cobras.

Scarlet King Snake / Coral Snake

Nature mimicry king snake

(images via: wikimedia commons 1 + 2)

The harmless scarlet king snake is one of a variety of snakes that have evolved to mimic the noxious coral snake, which is venomous to both humans and predators. A study placing plasticine models of the striped king snakes were placed both in the coral snake’s natural range and outside of it. With the soft material showing incidences of bird attacks, scientists were able to determine that the king snake models within the coral snake habitat were attacked far less than their counterparts outside the coral snake range – so the mimicry works.

Robber Fly / Bumblebee

Nature mimicry robber fly

(images via: wikimedia commons, wwarby)

Some species of robber fly mimic bees and wasps so well, it’s hard for the average person to tell the difference. Robber flies and bees aren’t closely related, and the robber fly has only a single pair of wings to the bumblebees’ two.

Green Parrot Snake / Forest Pit Viper

Nature Mimicry green parrot snake

(images via: wikimedia commons 1 + 2)

Green parrot snakes are slender, non-venomous snakes found within rainforests that also contain the eye lash pit viper and the forest pit viper. To protect themselves, these snakes are able to rear up and flatten their heads so that they take on the characteristic diamond-shape that signifies a dangerous bite.

Viceroy Butterfly / Monarch

Nature mimicry viceroy butterfly

(images via: wikimedia commons 1 + 2)

The monarch butterfly is covered in toxic substances known as cardiac glycosides, obtained when eating milkweed plants as a caterpillar. These substances make monarchs unpalatable to predators. Viceroy butterflies gradually took on similar colorations to prevent themselves from being eaten, because once a bird has tasted a monarch, it doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.

Clearwing Moth / Yellowjackets

Nature mimicry clearwing moth

(images via: acrylic artist, wikimedia commons)

Look closely at the ‘yellowjacket’ in the top picture and you’ll see that it’s hairy, has just one set of wings and bears distinctively moth-shaped antennae as well as a siphon mouth. That’s actually a clearwing moth.

Hooded Malpolon / Cobra

Nature mimicry false cobra

(images via: nature chronicles, wikimedia commons)

The false cobra, or Malpolon moilensis, is a mildly venomous but mostly harmless snake found in areas of Africa and the Middle East. To ward off predators, this snake has evolved to imitate a cobra’s stance by spreading its neck into a hood and hissing.

Owl Butterfly / Owl

Nature mimicry owl butterfly

Nature mimicry owl

(images via: wikimedia commons 1 + 2)

It’s easy to see why having spots that look exactly like owl’s eyes would work to the owl butterfly’s advantage. Especially in the semi-darkness, those spots can be quite believable, and most predators wouldn’t want to take the chance.

Ant Spiders / Ants

Nature mimicry ant spider

(images via: wikimedia commons, sanchom)

Ant spiders are just one of many arachnid and insect species that mimic ants to avoid predators. This ant mimic jumping spider is nearly indistinguishable from the ants that live within its range. Some spiders use their disguise to hunt ants.

Aardwolf /Striped Hyena

Nature mimicry aardwolf

(images via: harlequeen, wikimedia commons)

The aardwolf is a small mammal that eats insects – mostly termites – in stark contrast to its doppelganger, the striped hyena. While aardwolves are smaller, with more slender muzzles, this disguise lets them pass for the carnivorous predators.

Dronefly / Bee

Nature mimicry drone fly

(images via: gilles gonthier, jim capaldi)

Both in appearance and behavior, drone flies look almost exactly like the European honey bee. While they look dangerous, they don’t possess a stinger. They lack the pollen baskets of bees, but they’re almost equally useful in the garden, transporting pollen from plant to plant on their hairy bodies.

Bull Snake / Rattlesnake

Nature mimicry bull snake

(images via: wikimedia commons  1 + 2)

If you passed a bullsnake while out on a walk, you’d steer clear. Its impersonation of the rattlesnake is so impressive, most people – and predators – don’t stick around to find out that it’s a phony. Bullsnakes rear up to make themselves look as large as possible and hiss in such a way that creates a very convincing ‘rattle’ sound.

Ladybird Mimic Spider / Ladybug

Nature mimicry ladybug

(images via:  clicksy)

From afar, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that the Ladybird Mimic Spider wasn’t a ladybug at all. It is thought to have developed this coloration to allow it to get closer to its prey. Just the ladybug is pictured above – to see close-up photos of the Ladybird Mimic Spider, visit SG Macro.