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Re: OT: Stinging Caterpillar

  • Subject: Re: [iris-photos] OT: Stinging Caterpillar
  • From: "David Ferguson" <manzano57@msn.com>
  • Date: Tue, 14 Sep 2004 00:51:26 -0600
  • Seal-send-time: Tue, 14 Sep 2004 00:51:26 -0600


Those bright colors of many stinging caterpillars (and other nasty tasting and stinging critters - and plants) is generally thought to be literally an advertisement that says "come and taste me".  This sounds totally illogical when taken in the context of just one caterpillar, but when you realize that when tried once the animal who got the sting, bad taste, or whatever is going to remember and probably not repeat the mistake.  So, most of the nasties do survive at the expense of only a relatively few sacrifices from the population. 
Other species often take advantage of this and mimic coloration of the bad ones.  They have no defense, but get the advantage of the learned response of the predator to the color pattern as well. 
Just as an interesting side issue.  If good tasting critters with the advertising coloration outnumber the bad tasting ones for a time, the advantage is lost.  The predators will often actually learn to hunt for that coloration to find good food.  It's sort of a checks and balances system though, as it will switch back once enough predators start getting nasty surprises again.
Classic examples in North America are The Queen and Monarch butterflies, which taste bad and are mimicked by the unrelated Viceroy.  Also the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is mimicked by numerous other species of butterflies (Red-spotted Purple, female Tiger Swallowtail, female Diana Fritillary, Spicebush Swallowtail, female Black Swallowtail, etc.).  There are hundreds of other examples.


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