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Mimicry, Camouflage and More: Fooling Predators and Prey

There are many ways a small animal can mislead predators or prey by disguising itself.  The most obvious ways are by 1) looking like a more dangerous animal, 2) looking like something uninteresting or 3) becoming invisible by blending into its surroundings.  Sometimes, though, these animals make mistakes, and we humans sometimes unintentionally set them up to do so. 

A word to the wise: these little pictures are thumbnails, i.e., if you click on any of them, you'll see a much larger version of that picture.  If not, you may miss the crucial details that make the point.

The predator look     They invite to bite     Simple Mimicry     Camouflage     They make their own cover Real trouble (yellow & black)     Real trouble (red & black)        
    Dead leaf Camouflage mistakes          
    Bird dropping            
    Fading flower            
    Like a Lichen            


Just for openers: pairs/threes/or more of mimicked and mimicker

See full-size images without having to click on thumbnails.

Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), Pitt County Arboretum, Greenville, NC, 11/11/10, a relatively large flower fly that looks very much like a honey bee, but does not have a stinger. European Honeybee (Apis mellifera, subfamily Apinae, family Apidae), Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, Wake County, NC, 3/17/06.  This definitely has a stinger!          

Ant (Pseudomyrmex caeciliae), Durham, NC, 2/17/21. Tentative genus ID thanks to Ken Wolgemuth. Female antmimic jumping spider (Synemosyna formica), Durham, NC, 12/29/20          

Bee fly (Lepidophora lepidocera), Third Fork Creek Trail, Durham, NC, 7/4/12 Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Moth (Harrisina americana). Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham, NC, 6/6/10 Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis), Durham, 8/20/03.  This moth is in the same genus as the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth and behaves about the same.  Snowberries are much more common, however.    

Flower fly (Spilomyia fusca), relatively large, buzzing loudly.  The species is common in the Northeast.  Tanawha Trail, NC, 8/31/10. Bald-faced Aerial Yellow Jacket (Dolichovespula maculata), Durham, NC, 8/25/21        

Stinging Potter Wasp (Eumenes fraternus), Durham, 9/28/09.  Harmless Syrphid Fly (Sphiximorpha genus, subfamily Eristalinae), Durham, 10/24/05.  The big eyes and short antennae give it away.     


Male Yellow Jacket (Vespula vulgaris), Durham, NC, 11/20/08.  Note the long, black antennae.  This wasp can sting, of course. Virginia Hover Fly (Milesia virginiensis, subfamily Eristalinae),  Johnston Mill, Orange County, NC, 7/1/06.   Note the flattened abdomen, a characteristic apparently peculiar to syrphid flies.  This relatively large fly (sometimes almost an inch long) can look menacing when it hovers in the air right in front of you.  But it's just bluffing.  

Yellow Jackets (Vespula vulgaris) mating, with the female on the right. Durham, NC, 11/20/08 Flower fly (Spilomyia longicornis), American Tobacco Trail, Durham, NC, Locust Borer (Megacyllene robiniae, subfamily Cerambycinae), Boone, Watauga County, NC, 8/29/05.           

Paper wasp (Polistes genus) on Pinkweed.  Durham, NC, 9/5/09. Grape Root Borer Moth (Vitacea polistiformis), Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 5/1/09.  Its species name acknowledges this resemblance.  


Harmless checkered beetle (Enoclerus ichneumoneus), Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham County, NC, 4/4/09.   Granted, this insect is never found in  the same environments as the Cowkiller and hardly moves.  It may be a coincidence that they look so similar, but as we'll see later, red and black are a winning combination. Spider wasp (Psorthaspis mariae), Falls Lake Dam area, 9/11/10.  It successfully mimicked a velvet ant while scurrying along.  Longhorn beetle (Euderces pini), Durham, NC, 5/16/13 Velvet Ant (Timulla genus?).  The extra abdominal ring is an artifact of photography.  Third Fork Trail, Durham, NC, 7/14/11    


Bitter-tasting Male Monarch, Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham County, NC, 8/2405.  This butterfly gets its taste from milkweed family alkaloids it has consumed as a caterpillar. Harmless Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), Durham, NC, 9/14/05.  The hind wing bands give it away.  


Rove beetle larva, Jordan Lake, Chatham County, NC, 9/18/16 Peapod, Durham, NC, 5/13/20          


Lesser Angle-winged Katydid, Durham, NC, 8/19/08 Vegetation mimicking a Lesser Angle-winged Katydid, Durham, NC, 9/19/23          


The Predator Look

These animals generally look as if they have big heads.  Eyespots imply this, but sometimes the design represents complete mimicry of a long jaw with many teeth.  Sometimes, though, the animal just looks heavily armed.

Female Basilica Spider (Mecynogea lemniscata), American Tobacco Trail, Durham, NC, 6/29/09.  If you click on this thumbnail, you can see how it looks like it has a large head with long jaws. Basilica spider (Mecynogea lemniscata), Durham, NC, 7/6/09, showing both "monster" views Basilica Spider (Mecynogea lemniscata), dorsal view of the abdomen, Durham, NC, 7/20/05.  This view suggests the gaping jaws of a snake, with fangs and tongue. See the eyespots on this late-instar Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), caterpillar, Indian Creek Trail, Jordan Lake, Chatham County, NC, 9/3/06.  To judge from the threads on either side, it might have been about to become a chrysalis, but in other circumstances it may have reared its head and tried to look aggressive. Crablike Spined Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis), Cypress Gardens, Berkeley County, SC, 10/12/07.  The spines certainly make it look unappetizing; whether it looks like a scary face, though, is a matter of opinion.  If you unsuspectedly wreck its web and it winds up in your hand, it feels like a sandspur. See other spiders.        

Beech Blight Aphids (Grylloprociphilus imbricator), Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 8/31/07.  They waved their abdomens up and down in unison, looking like a large, furry animal. 

They invite to bite

When some predators see eyes and/or wiggling parts, they bite.

Mating Common Buckeyes (Junonia coenia) Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 8/24/05.  Here is a contrast of the dorsal and ventral side patterns of wings. Common Buckeye, Durham, 10/17/05, still flying in spite of a bite or two at the eyespots. Northern Pearly Eye (Lethe anthedon)Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 8/18/08.  Lots of material to work with here! Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala), Duke Forest, Gate 12, 9/29/05.  This species often tries to hide in the brush. Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus), Durham, NC, 6/10/08.  Both eyespots and skinny wiggling parts here.  Hairstreaks typically rub their hind wings together to create the illusion of an eyed creature with antennae.  


You don't really know me: animals that use either camouflage or Batesian mimicry, depending on the lighting.

Oak Timberworm (Arrhenodes minutus), a type of straight-snouted weevil.  It is brown in nonreflected light. Brown Prionid (Orthosoma brunneum, Prionini tribe), Durham, NC, 7/7/08.  This beetle has a cool strategy: in the daylight (or in dim noctural light), it's brown and uses camouflage.  But in reflected light (in this nighttime photo) it looks red and apparently poisonous.  Golden Tortoise Beetle (Charidotella bicolor), Durham, NC, 7/1/07.  Golden Tortoise Beetle (Charidotella bicolor), Durham, NC, 7/1/07.  This is the same beetle as that on the left, taken in a different light.  Here it reflects its green environment. Golden Tortoise Beetle,  Durham, NC  9/10/06, taken in a better light. Just to add to the confusion, one more Golden Tortoise Beetle,   Duke Gardens, Durham, NC, 7/24/05, reflecting nearby flowers.  Soft-winged flower beetle (Collops genus), which can't seem to make up its mind about fight or flight.  A combination of scary red and camouflage green during the day, it becomes red and black in dim light.  Seen in neighborhood marsh.  Durham, NC, 8/23/08

 Simple Mimicry: hiding in plain sight, useful for both predators and prey

These each look like something else that is unappetizing (and unthreatening), but are still clearly visible.

Warty Leaf Beetle (Neochlamisus gibbosus, Chlamisini tribe, Cryptocephalinae subfamily), Durham, NC, 5/10/08.  This beetle is typically confused with caterpillar droppings, but only when it tucks its legs under it and lies motionless! Wavy-lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata) caterpillar, Asheboro, NC, 8/18/07.  These caterpillars camouflage themselves by attaching plant debris to their bodies, giving them a withered look. Leaf insect (ventral view). Audubon Insectarium, New Orleans, LA, 10/25/08.  It wiggled constantly when it walked, imitating a quivering leaf.  This insect was collected in Southeast Asia.        

The dead leaf or twig look

Treehopper (Campylenchia latipes), imitating a twig.  Occoneechee Mountain, Orange County, NC, 10/4/07. Treehopper (Entylia carinata), Durham, NC, 5/10/08, imitating part of a dead oak leaf. Diamond-backed Spittlebug (Lepyronia quadrangularis), Durham, NC, 6/20/09.  Its front is on the right.  This tiny insect mimicks a crumpled dead leaf or part of a dead leaf.


Question Mark butterfly in  foreground light (wing ventral view), Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham, NC, 3/14/07, looking like just another dead leaf. Backlit Question Mark butterfly (same one as on left), with its dorsal wing pattern showing through. Curve-lined Owlet Moth caterpillar (Phyprosopus callitrichoides, Calpini tribe), Durham, NC, 10/23/09, hanging from a branch, mimicking a rolled-up dead leaf.  Question Mark, well-camouflaged among thousands of dead leaves covering the ground.  Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 11/20/11 Mating Variegated Fritillaries (Euptoieta claudia), Flat River Impoundment, Durham, NC, 8/15/10. They fit in nicely with the rock they're on, but would have been better hidden on the ground. Yellow-necked Caterpillar moth, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 7/14/07.  This looks a lot like a rolled up piece of bark recently fallen from a tree.  


Chrysalis, Boone, Watauga County, NC, 6/17/19 Leaf like a chrysalis, Durham, NC, 6/4/20        

The bird dropping look

Grass Miner Moth (Antaeotricha genus, probably Schlaegeri species, Stenomatinae subfamily).   This moth was ~5 mm long and looked like a bird dropping at first glance. Beautiful Wood Nymph (Eudryas grata, subfamily Agarastinae), Durham, 8/11/06.  Also looks like a bird dropping. Beautiful Wood Nymph, Durham, NC, 8/1/11.  Photo taken at night. Mating Hag Moths (Phobetron pithecium) Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham County, NC, 7/15/07.  Another moth (Tarache tetragona), on a pokeweed stem at the Flat River Impoundment, Durham, NC on 8/15/10.  

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) caterpillar, about 5 mm long.  Bay St. Louis, Hancock County, MS, 10/16/10 Leafhopper (Scaphoideus genus) nymph, Durham, NC, 5/21/21. Very tiny, looking like a black-and-white spot. Bird dropping, Durham, NC, 5/31/20          


The fading flower look

Ambush Bug, Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 9/17/08.   At a distance, this insect looks like a wilted flower on this type of plant.  When there only seems to be one on the entire plant, it's almost always an Ambush Bug. This Ambush Bug has turned green to suit the occasion.  Durham, NC, 8/23/08

Mighty like a lichen

Deep-yellow Euchlaena (Euchlaena amoenaria) Moth, Durham, NC, 5/1/07.   It looks like some lichens (see right). Lichen, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, 12/27/09          

Camouflage: These animals, on the other hand, blend in with their natural background. 

Northern Pine Sphinx (Lapara Bombycoides), Appalachian Trail, Botetourt County, VA,  9/15/04.  This is only one of the many species of caterpillars that feed on pine needles. Tulip Tree Beauty Moth on a tree trunk, Penny's Bend Nature Reserve, Durham County, NC, 8/23/05. Antlion (Vella americanum), Carolina Beach State Park, New Hanover County, NC, 6/25/08.  between 2 and 3 inches long.  Obvious camouflage: if you don't click on the thumbnail, you really can't appreciate this one! Immature Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata). This crab has adapted its markings to the sandy environment. Immature Ghost Crab, Ft. Fisher, New Hanover County, NC, 10/20/05.  This crab is matching its pattern to another type of sand. Young Magnolia Green Jumping Spider (Lyssomanes viridis, subfamily Lyssomaninae), outdoor trail at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Wake County, NC, 5/8/07


Small crayfish in a puddle left over from a creek during a drought.   Durham, NC, 9/5/09 Southern Leopard Frog (Rana sphenocephala), near Albemarle Sound, Tyrrell County, NC, 9/24/04.   This frog seems at home in places with a lot of sickly grass. Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), Indian Creek Trail, Chatham County, NC, 4/10/05, in the woods far from the Jordan Lake shore. Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham County, NC, 10/21/06.  This frog was very far from water, on the side of a very tall hill in the woods, although it looks as though it would be at home in an environment with moss or algae.  It did get the mottled look right, though. Female Eastern Fence Lizard, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 4/18/10  



Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis), Ocracoke, Hyde County, NC, 5/15/05.  When green, anoles are well-disguised among grass and succulent plants.  This Loíza (Puerto Rico) anole demonstrated very effective camouflage on 10/12/06. Whitish tiger beetle (Cicindela gratiosa), Carolina Beach State Park, New Hanover County, NC, 6/23/06.  It was springing around like a fly, and all I could see was motion at first.  ID thanks to Patrick Coin of Durham, NC. American Toad (Bufo americanus), Eno River SP, 5/2/03.   Superb camouflage! This toad blends in well with the forest floor, a combination of small, relatively unhealthy green plants and dead leaves.    


White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 1/5/12.  This Killdeer at Cedar Point in Bay St. Louis, Hancock County, MS, 1/11/09, blended in well with some rocks, where it fled on seeing people. Female Eastern Towhee  (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), 12/5/08.  Towhees look for insects and seeds on the ground, and are well hidden among dead leaves of various shades. Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), subfamily Certhiinae), Durham, NC, 1/31/09This bird looks like a hunk of tree bark. Mallard family, Durham, NC, 4/13/08 Fishfly (Corydalidae family), hiding on the underside of a tree branch, Cambden County (just north of Elizabeth City), NC, 4/27/09.  This is a large insect (about 2 inches long).      


Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) about to fly under the Pasquotank River Bridge between Pasquotank and Camden Counties, NC, 4/27/09.  The blue blends in well with the bodies of water they are always near when they fly, but their brown "faces" are what show when they're in their nests, which are built on sides of walls. Female Northern Flicker  (Colaptes auratus), showing a rear view of the head.  Durham, NC, 3/19/09.  Generally seen in my neighborhood in the early spring, this bird blends in well with mostly bare tree branches and Red Maple blossoms. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroaura), Durham, NC, 11/1/06.  This bird is relatively well-hidden in an environment of gravel, soil and dead leaves. Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), Audubon Swamp Garden, Charleston County, SC, 3/28/06.  Its black-and-white coloring helps this bird hide in trees even in the winter. Male American Goldfinch among Common Sneezeweed, Flat River Impoundment, Durham County, NC, 8/7/11          


White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) family, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 4/13/06.  There's a big deer on the right and a small one on the left. A somewhat more visible White-tailed Deer, Great Dismal Swamp State Park, Camden County, NC, 12/19/08.  A crambid snout moth (Epipagis huronalis), Flat River Impoundment, Durham, NC, 8/15/10.  This moth is shaped like the two Common Sneezeweed petals it's perched on.  ID thanks to Maury J. Heiman A Common Oak Moth (Phoberia atomaris) managed to slip under a pine needle and part of a leaf in a split-second landing at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Orange County, NC, 3/17/11.  These moths were very common in this area that day, but extremely fast-moving and often impossible to see when they landed.  I got this photo by aiming the camera where I saw the moth land, without actually seeing it! Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum), partially hidden under rotted wood.  Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 3/23/11            


Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thisbe), Durham, 8/3/03.  Note the distinctive green thorax and red-brown abdomen and wings.  Note how the flowers show through the clear parts of the wings.  Male Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa), Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham, NC, 5/20/10.  Even with a few spots on them, the wings are very hard to see.          

Camouflage mistakes: Sometimes animals either fail to adjust their skin to the right color or pick the wrong background.

Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelus) or Copes' Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor), Durham, NC, 7/27/08.  This frog's problem may be due to malnutrition or illness, since "gray" treefrogs are normally not all gray. Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), White Pines Natural Area, Chatham County, NC, 9/25/05.  It's really hard to imagine what this frog was thinking. Looks like a brown American Green Treefrog (Hyla Cinerea).  Durham, 10/18/06.  Seen in a power line cut near a creek.  Since it was late in the year, near the end of insect season, the frog may have been malnourished.

Animals that rely on camouflage have special difficulties adapting to artificially produced environments, especially those with solid colors or those simply not found in certain natural environments.

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis), Ft. Fisher State Recreational Area, New Hanover County, NC, 10/12/06.  You can see some pigment changes on the head and tail, resulting in four different colors. Rough (Tree?)Stink Bug (Brochymena quadripustulata) on a bulletin board at Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 11/14/07.  It hides easily on tree bark, unlike in this setting, a bulletin board. Rough Stink Bug (Brochymena arborea), Durham, NC, 11/9/10, on a painted wall, with some peeling of the paint evident. (Copes?) Gray Treefrog (Hyla genus), Durham, NC, 10/13/08, on the rim of a brown plastic garbage can.  This is a normal, healthy frog.  During droughts, these frogs jump into rain-collecting containers, swim around and leave without difficulty.  But they do stand out in this environment! Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), on a car at Freeman Park, Carolina Beach, NC, 10/19/05.  The beach is no place for this butterfly, which has the deep brown color of mid-winter fallen leaves.  

Sometimes camouflage works against the animal's interest, most notably with dark gravel pavement.

Blister Beetle (Lytta aenea), probably not in great shape.  Despite the red legs, it's not easy to see and risks being stepped on.          

Some insects hide under a cover of their own creation.

Green lacewing larva, hiding under a large white mass which typically includes everything from leaf trichomes (hairlike projections) to dead insects.  Durham, NC, 6/11/09.  It was pinching me at the time, apparently trying to gather more material. Another view of this Green Lacewing larva, showing more clearly the bodies of its previous prey, including what looks like a large bug nymph,  Durham, NC, 6/11/09 Flatid Planthopper nymph, Durham, NC, 7/6/07, eyes a leg showing on the top.  These hide under a cottony substance they excrete from their abdomens. Acanalonid planthopper nymph, producing a similar white substance to that shown on the left.  Durham, NC, 7/7/08.  As with flatid planthoppers, these nymphs gather in tight groups, apparently rubbing this substance on one another.        


Clavate Tortoise Beetle (Plagiometriona clavata) larva, Durham, NC, 7/6/07.   This insect hides under its own fecal matter. Casebearer beetle larva (Cryptocephalinae subfamily, Chrysomelidae family), Jordan Lake Gameland, Chatham County, NC,  6/19/07, hiding under an imposing tower of its own fecal matter.  You can see the little legs at the bottom.

Müllerian Mimicry: they are dangerous and let you know it

Actually, this is the real article: warnings given by these colors and patterns should be heeded.  It's not really mimicry, but that's the official term!

The insects (wasps and bees) shown below announce with their yellow-and-black stripes that they possess venomous post-abdominal stingers, and they are telling the truth. 

European Honeybee (Apis mellifera, subfamily Apinae, family Apidae), Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, Wake County, NC, 3/17/06.  Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus, Handlirschiina subgenus, Bembicini tribe, Bembicinae subfamily), Durham, NC, 8/1/08 Yellow Jackets (Vespula vulgaris) mating.  Durham, NC, 11/20/08 Yes, wasps have predators, although you don't hear about them too much.  This robber fly is subduing a hornet with what seems like very unflylike behavior: note the hornet's stinger.  Duke Forest Gate #12, Durham, NC, 8/23/06.        


Cuckoo Bee (Nomada genus, Heminomada subgenus, most likely Imbricata species).  ID thanks to John S. Ascher. Crabronid wasp (Philanthus gibbosus), NC Botanical Garden, Orange County, NC, 8/28/06.  This is a predator of halictid bees. Ichneumonid Wasp, Durham, 10/29/05.  Members of the Ichneumonidae family Tiphiid wasps (Myzinum genus), Carolina Beach State Park, New Hanover County, NC, 6/23/07, struggling to get into one little hole in the sand. Wasp (Scolia nobilitata).  NOTE: The ITIS does not list the species nobilitata. Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica), Museum of Life and Science grounds, Durham, NC, 4/23/09           

Batesian Mimicry: sheep in wolves' clothing

These insects can't sting, but they'd like you to believe they can.  The insects in these two rows mimic stinging prey of common predators.

Yellow and black stripes in these animals mislead predators into thinking that they sting.

Plasterer Bees (Colletes thoracicus), Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 3/14/08.  Male Ornate Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus ornatus), North Carolina Botanical Garden, Orange County, NC, 5/24/07 Female Robber Fly (Promachus rufipes), Eno River SP, Old Cole Mill Road access, 8/17/05.  Robber Fly (Laphria divisor), Cox Mountain Trail, Eno River State Park, Orange County, NC, 5/6/07, imitates bumblebees and carpenter bees. Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis), Durham, 8/20/03.  Another bumblebee mimic. Southern Bee Killer (Mallophora orcina, subfamily Asilinae), Carolina Beach State Park, New Hanover County, NC, 10/12/06.  Another kind of robber fly looking like a bumblebee.        


Syrphid Fly (Temnostoma balyras, subtribe Philippimyiina, tribe Milesiini), Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 5/11/07   Flower Fly (Syrphus genus, Syrphinae subfamily), Boone, Watauga County, 8/31/05.  A hornet imitator. Flower fly (Helophilus fasciatus), NC Botanical Garden, Orange County, NC, 10/20/06.  Another flavor of hornet imitation. Locust Borer Beetle (Megacyllene robiniae, subfamily Cerambycinae), Boone, Watauga County, NC, 8/29/05.       

A few interesting variations on the yellow-and-black stripes theme...

Crablike Spiny Orb Weaver (Gasterocanthis cancriformis), Carolina Beach State Park, New Hanover County, NC, 6/23/06.  A little different: spikes and no stripes. Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia). Across the street from the East Campus of Duke University, Durham, NC, 10/4/04.   Its natural habit is in the tropics, so its mimicry is probably less effective here, as the apparent bite out of the left wing suggests. White-backed Garden Spider (Argiope fasciata), Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 10/17/07  Dorsal view.   

More Müllerian Mimicry: red and black, but not friend of Jack

Red or orange with black is a warning of poison.  All of the below, as does the Monarch Butterfly, eat the alkaloid-rich milkweed family members, which give them a bitter taste. 

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis),  Eno River State Park, Orange County, NC, 10/9/06 Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii [Stal, 1874]), Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham County, NC, 3/2/08. Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) nymphs, NC Botanical Garden, Orange County, 11/26/05 Milkweed Assassin Bug (Zelus longipes), Ocracoke, Hyde County, NC, 5/11/09          

Like the milkweed-eaters, these animals are genuinely poisonous, but they inject venom with bites or stings.

Cowkiller (Dasymutilla occidentalis), Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 9/1/07. The Cowkiller is infamous for its painful sting. Male and female Black Widow Spiders Black Widow spiderling, one of a large group near a rock crevice on a power line cut in Durham, NC, 10/15/08.  Braconid wasp (Atanycolus genus), Cypress Gardens, Berkeley County, SC, 10/12/07
Caterpillar Hunter (Ammophila genus), Greenville, NC, 9/20/08          

 More Batesian Mimicry: red and black (sometimes with white)

There are many insects and some spiders in this group.  In the first row, we see the fancy ones: the first two can look green instead of black in direct light.  The others sport multiple white stripes. 

Since there are so many red and black insects, this might also serve as an abridged identification guide to this large, confusing group.

Soft-winged flower beetle (Collops genus).  Seen in neighborhood marsh.  Durham, NC, 8/23/08 Florida Predatory Stink Bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanus [Linnaeus, 1767]), Durham, NC, 11/9/09 Picture-winged Fly (Tritoxa incurva), Durham, NC, 9/7/09 Colorful foliage ground beetle (Lebia vittata, tribe Lebiini, subfamily Harpalinae), Durham, NC, 9/7/08.  This beetle is a carnivore, even though it's on a leaf.   Flea Beetle (Disonycha genus, Alticini tribe), Durham, NC, 4/19/06.  This beetle was visiting a dandelion.  Burdock Beetle (Leptinotarsa juncta). Same beetle, playing dead.  Close to looking like a Colorado Potato Beetle, but no cigar: the broad black stripe and the thorax markings set it apart.  It is an herbivore, but not a crop pest.          


Male jumping spider (Phidippus whitmani), at Abbott Lake, Peaks of Otter Recreational Area, Bedford County, VA, 7/9/09 Ladybug beetle, Cycloneda munda, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 6/4/08 Crablike Spiny Orb Weaver (Gastrocantha cancriformis), Carolina Beach State Park, New Hanover County, NC, 6/23/07.  With its spines, this spider could go in the "monster" category, too. Long-horned beetle (Euderces pini, Tillomorphini tribe, Cerambycinae subfamily)Eno River State Park, Old Cole Mill Road access, 4/4/07          

Spots, whether red on black or vice versa, are a common sight.  All of these animals are designed to ward off predators: they are all herbivorous except for the Ladybug Beetle, whose black-spotted red expanse towers, out of sight, over its tiny aphid prey.

Convergent Ladybug Beetle (Hippodamia convergens), Durham, NC, 9/13/08.  Found in a power line cut. Male shining leaf beetle (Neolema sexpunctata), Durham, NC, 7/1/07 Cocklebur Weevil (Rhodobaenus quinquepunctatus), Durham, 7/8/08 Flea beetle (Capraita sexmaculata, Alticini tribe, Galerucinae subfamily, Chrysomelidae family).  A kind of leaf beetle. Two-lined Leatherwing Beetle (Atalantycha bilineata), Durham, NC, 4/17/09  


Cylindrical Leaf beetle (Babia quadriguttata, tribe Clytrini), Durham, 6/2/06. Leaf beetle (Cryptocephalus quadruplex, subfamily Cryptocephalinae), Durham, 5/17/08.  Very tiny. Twice-stabbed Ladybug Beetle (Chilocorus stigma), American Tobacco Trail, Durham, NC, 5/19/08.  There is another red spot on the right side (rear view). Tumbling flower beetle (Hoshihananomia octopunctata), Durham, NC, 8/11/08.           

These mostly very young animals are almost all red, with small amounts of black.

Leaffooted Bug nymph, Durham, 6/6/05.  This bug appeared on my car for no apparent reason.  An early instar. Early instar leaffooted bug nymphs!  Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Orange County, NC, 5/31/07.  They grow up to be brown, but late instar nymphs are gray. Red-shouldered Bug nymph (Jadera haematoloma), Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, NC, 6/9/06.  Mirid bug nymph, Penny's Bend, Durham County, NC, 5/5/06.  This bug was about ¼ inch long without the antennae. Yucca Plant Bug (Halticoma valida) nymph, Durham, NC, 6/17/09.  Very tiny, no more than 1 mm long          


Adult velvet mite (Trombidiidae family), Eno River State Park, Orange County, NC, 10/26/09.  This predator (a former parasite as a nymph) was unusually large for its type at about 2 mm long.  Adult Golden Net-winged Beetle (Dictyopterus aurora), American Tobacco Trail (Mile 5), Durham, NC, 2/26/09.  A fairly large, showy beetle, it's anomalous in this group.          

And this young animal's species is unique here, its members containing tetrodotoxin, the same poison that makes the notorious Japanese puffer fish so deadly, but this does not protect them from certain wily (and dexterous) predators, according to Eisner (2003).

Red-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), red eft stage, Appalachian Trail, Macon County, 8/18/04.  Red spells "poisonous" in nature's lexicon, but when this baby newt grows up, it'll have to rely on its wits to survive, since it'll be mostly brown with a few small red spots.  

These three red-and-black arthropods all mimic one another; none attacks humans (but please don't eat them in any case...)

Love Bug (Plecia nearctica), Durham, NC, 5/4/08. Argid Sawfly (Arge genus, quidia or scapularus species), Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Orange County, NC, 5/21/09.  Red-spotted Ant Mimic Spider (Castianeira descripta), Durham, 5/18/08  Grapeleaf Skeletonizer (Harrisina americana), outside at the Museum of Life & Science, Durham, 6/6/05.  This is a notorious agricultural pest.

Here is a very miscellaneous group that also would make easy prey without their distinctive colors.  Although Boxelder Bug nymphs are lively, even they are handicapped by their winglessness.

Very well-fed Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) nymph, Durham, NC, 5/10/08.  This formidable creature can stand up to anything but droughts. Boxelder Bug (Boisea trivittata) nymph, Durham, NC, 5/6/09 Adult Boxelder Bug (Boisea trivittata), Durham, NC, 11/18/07.  Now that it has wings, this bug doesn't need nearly as much red! Mirid Bug (Lopidea genus), Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham, NC, 5/24/08


Largus Bug (Largus succinctus [Linnaeus, 1763]), Goose Creek State Park, Beaufort County, NC, 11/6/07.  A seed eater.  ID with reference to Texas Cooperative Extension/Texas A&M University System. Pselliopus cinctus (a kind of assassin bug), which appeared on my garage door frame in Durham on 1/25/10. Yucca Plant Bug (Halticotoma valida), on agave plant at NC Botanical Garden, 11/21/07.  This is a tiny insect, only about 2 mm long.        



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