The name of the game is survival – what species doesn't want to excel in existence? Yet while we fancy humans have all kinds of tricks to keep our species at the top of the food chain, other organisms come with more vulnerabilities. Thankfully Mother Nature doesn't ignore the underdogs and has bestowed some wonderful defenses which have evolved over time, giving a lot of the planet's living things a fighting chance.
Case in point, this collection of creatures that pays homage to mimicry and its cousin, camouflage. Sometimes the goal is to look like another species, sometimes just to completely disappear. Whatever the mechanics, these masters of disguise are some of the slyest species around.
1. The katydid that looks like lichen
As if crafted with delicate string and the nimblest of hands, the wild camouflage of a lichen katydid is so striking in its odd beauty – what kind of insect looks like that??
Seahorses aren't racehorses. In fact, the slowest-moving fish in the world, the dwarf seahorse, has a top speed of about 5 feet per hour. Which means easy prey, which means they have developed incredible camouflage! Pygmy seahorses, like the one pictured here, take on the uncanny appearance of their habitat. See this one in action on video here.
Caterpillars have it especially hard – they are slow and don't have things like claws and arms and teeth to fight with, so they resort to other defenses. Many are super toxic and will sting and even kill! Others blend into the woodwork, so to speak, while some pretend to be, oh you know, big scary snakes. Why not? The transformer-style caterpillar here just raises up its toosh and eeek! It also darts and wavers like a snake. A bunch more here: 10 spectacular caterpillars that look like snakes.
Much like their seahorse cousins, sea dragons aren't especially quick or agile. In fact, they kind of just drift around according to the whims of the current. Luckily, Mother Nature has given them a tremendous costume of leaves to keep their languid selves well-hidden from animals that would otherwise enjoy eating them. Read more about them here: The surreal and showy world of sea dragons.
The stick insect Ctenomorpha chronus doesn't just look like a stick, it looks like a branch! Gads. The one we wrote about here snagged the record for the world's longest insect, measuring in at an astonishing 24 inches.
Did you know that there are some 300 spider species around the world that mimic ants? Spiders like Myrmarachne melanotarsa, a jumping spider, like to keep company with ants and even adopt ant looks and behavior to blend in. As it turns out, threatening spiders and spider predators steer clear of ants, whose formic acid can cause a lot of harm.
Kind of like the teacher with eyes in the back of her head, some butterflies, like this gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus) have a false head at the rear, held upwards at rest. Although it may not see a predator approaching, the predator won't know any better.
Oh cruel, cruel Ophrys bombyliflora! The bumblebee orchid is such a tease. Not only does the flower look like a female bumblebee, it also mimics the scent of one. The goal? To lure randy male bumblebees into a mating attempt, collecting pollen in the process which is then delivered to the next orchid seductress.
Why the sad face? Reef stonefish all have a distinctively grumpy-looking face, personally I think it adds to their charm – though they likely don't need sympathy given that they are one of world's top most venomous fish! That's right, a single sting from this sourpuss rock impersonator can be excruciating, and even fatal. Other tricks these curmudgeons have up their sleeves? They don't have scales, they can survive out of the water for 24 hours, and they secrete a liquid that feeds the plants that grows on them. I'd say that's something to smile about, no?