If you’re on a secret mission a good disguise is important. The animal kingdom offers some of the best disguises out there. If there were an animal Secret Service, these beasties would make the perfect undercover agents.
Alias: Lampropeltis elapsoides
Disguises as: Coral snake
Reason: Don’t attack me! I’m venomous!
Coral snakes are notoriously venomous. Scarlet kingsnakes are… less so. But since the scarlet kingsnake looks a lot like a coral snake, most animals – and humans – aren’t going to stick around to find out which is which!
Alias: Limenitis archippus
Disguises as: Monarch butterfly
Reason: Don’t eat me! I taste nasty!
For a long while, it was thought that the viceroy butterfly mimicked the distasteful monarch butterfly so that birds wouldn’t want to eat it. However, we now think that the viceroy butterfly and monarch butterfly mimic each other! Both taste nasty, so by using similar warning patterns on their wings, predators know to avoid both after tasting only one. Now that’s what I call efficient!
The words ‘venomous’ and ‘poisonous’ have different meanings. If you bite something and you die, it’s poisonous. If it bites you and you die, then it’s venomous.
Alias: Macrochelys temminckii
Disguises as: Dinner
Reason: Here’s a nice tasty worm! Swim right into my mouth and eat it!
Obviously, a whole turtle would have difficulty pretending to be a worm, so the alligator snapping turtle just uses its pink tongue. It hides at the bottom of murky water, hangs its jaw open, and waits for a hungry fish to go for the bait. Dinner has never been so easy.
Disguises eggs as: Other birds’ eggs
Reason: Parenting is hard; somebody else can do it.
If you’re a bird, raising young means sitting on an egg for days and then constantly feeding the newborn chicks until they can finally fly the nest. It’s tough. But if you’re a member of the cuckoo family, then all you need to do is find a nest with eggs that look similar to yours, lay your egg in it, and leave the host mother to raise your chick for you. Boom! Free childcare. (Shouldn’t that be chickcare? Ed)
Alias: Thaumoctopus mimicus
Disguises as: Lionfish, sea snake, flatfish, jellyfish, crabs and more!
Reason: Whatever I am, you don’t want to attack me.
This octopus is so good at mimicking that it’s even named after its amazing talent! Not only can it change its colour to match what it’s mimicking, but its soft body is able to twist itself into the right shape. An octopus might look like a good meal to a predator, but a venomous lionfish or crabby crab? Less so!
Alias: Homo sapiens
Disguises as: Lots of things
Finally we come to the creature that imitates more animals than any other. Us! We’ve dressed up and disguised ourselves as animals for many reasons over thousands of years – culture, hunting, and most uniquely, under the banner of good old-fashioned fun. So when you dress up as an animal for a fancy-dress party, know that you’re following in one of nature’s finest traditions!
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Words: Helen Hovell. Illustration: Takayo Akiyama