Station: [6] Mimicry

Mimicry – the art of the perfect illusion!

There’s nothing pleasant about the sting of a wasp, with its black and yellow stripes – and that doesn’t just apply to humans. Birds and other insect-eaters quickly learn to avoid wasps.

And other insects take advantage of that fact: beetles, hoverflies and even butterflies disguise themselves as wasps to keep enemies at bay. The long-legged wasp beetle has perfected the art of deception and even moves like a wasp.

Any bird that’s had a nasty experience with a wasp sting remembers the insect’s appearance and avoids anything similar in the future. When a harmless animal imitates a dangerous animal, it’s called "mimicry".

In the 19th century, the English naturalist Henry Walter Bates did scientific research in parts of South America where many harmless butterflies shared a habitat with a few poisonous species. The butterflies were often so similar that Bates actually mixed them up. When he recognised the hoax, he described his amazing discovery to his fellow biologists. This type of mimicry is called "Batesian mimicry" after the man who discovered it.

Far more common than imitating other creatures, is for a species to copy its background, in other words, employ camouflage, or mimesis. Many animals achieve perfection in this respect, too. Turn around and take a look at the display case with the fungi. A beetle and a butterfly have adopted such skilful camouflage that they’re almost impossible to detect. Have you found them?