National Geographic News
Arrowhead dead leaf mimic mantis portraits in leaf litter

Deroplatys trigonodera, a leaf-litter mantid, has taken on the look of a decomposing leaf on the forest floor.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Nora Gallagher

National Geographic

PUBLISHED MARCH 23,2014

When it comes to biology, mimicry is everywhere. Lions use camouflage to blend in with the savanna. Frogs use mimicry to match their green environment. Most famously, chameleons will even change color to blend in with their backgrounds. (See "Find the Mimic" in National Geographic magazine.)

For their part, researchers have long been fascinated with mimicry, and for some contemporaries of Darwin like naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, it was mimicry and camouflage that helped convince them of the power of natural selection. Nature selects for successful traits: Insects that can blend in with their environments are less likely to be eaten and are able to pass on their genes-and their natural disguises-to future generations. (Related: "Photo Gallery: Masters of Undersea Camouflage.")

But according to a study released yesterday, it turns out that a certain type of leaf mimicry dates back much further than experts believed, to the time of the dinosaurs. (See "Stick Insects Have Mimicked Plants Since the Age of Dinosaurs.")

Cloak of Green

Walking leaf Phyllium giganteum portraits of adult female colormorph.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Not only does this walking leaf insect (Phyllium giganteum) blend in perfectly with the colors and shapes of its environment, it also rocks back and forth when it walks to mimic a real leaf being blown by the wind.

A Perfect Blend

The lantern fly (Fulgora sp.) is well camouflaged on the trunk of its host tree.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The lantern fly (Fulgora sp.) on the left is well camouflaged on the trunk of its host tree in Soberania National Park in Panama. In a defensive display, the lantern fly on the right flashes large eyespots on its wings to scare away hungry predators.

Pretty in Pink

A orchid mantis mimics the orchid that it perches on.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Look closely to find the walking flower mantis (Hymenopus coronatus). While some insects use their camouflage to hide among flowers, this orchid mantis may be mimicking parts of the orchid flower to attract prey. Its four walking legs look like flower petals.

Caterpillar Trickery

A green lichen colored caterpillar.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

This green caterpillar (Tanaecia sp.) blends beautifully into its environment. The degree to which insects have developed camouflage has long fascinated scientists. In the words of renowned scientist E. O. Wilson, "Every kid has a bug period. I never grew out of mine."

Dead Leaf Walking

A butterfly mimics a dead leaf.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Who wants to eat a dead leaf? Not most animals. The dead leaf butterfly (Kallima sp.) is aptly named for the color of its wings.

Becoming One With Its Environment

camouflage katydid in landscape on fausto
PHOTOGRAPH BY NICOLE WERBECK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The lichen-colored katydid blends in perfectly with its lichen-encrusted host tree to hide from predation. What's more, this katydid eats the very lichen it is camouflaged to match.

Masters of Masquerade

A brown walking stick.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Walking stick insects (Lonchodes sp.) protect themselves in nature by resembling twigs and branches. To add to their disguise, they walk slowly to resemble branches swaying in the wind.

75 comments
MOSES MBISE
MOSES MBISE

 Instead of big horns for fight they use camouflage to blend in with the environment. that is awesome!


Nancy Jensen
Nancy Jensen

These are incredibly amazing shots -- they're awesome....my favorite is the first one, the leaf-litter mantid.....but for the life of me....I cannot find the walking stick....LOL - where is he????  They all look like branches to me.

Sydney Tudela
Sydney Tudela

So fascinating..I have seen one or two of the above insect. Like the walking stick..Masquerade really is what it is..I swear I freaked when I saw it but at the same time so fascinated by the distinct look..

Xylus Winters
Xylus Winters

I have always envisioned that insects are aliens. I am not a fan of creepy crwalies 

J p
J p

Brilliant !

Shane Czarnecki
Shane Czarnecki

I could use some camoflage like that when my wife's looking for me to do house work.

Ramiro Yabar
Ramiro Yabar

Nature is spectacular animals in order to survive from predators developed spectacular forms of camouflage.   

jamilah ikhsan
jamilah ikhsan

Truly

those insects are amazing

and The God is great!

John Woodworth
John Woodworth

"Those honor Nature well, who teach that She can speak on everything." B. Pascal

Angelien Goode
Angelien Goode

Where there is design there is a Creator! It's not a mystery, it is awesome!

Nandan K
Nandan K

My friend and I have seen a green caterpillar before, but it was crawling in the open. I wonder why.

Robert Brinar
Robert Brinar

Amazing photos - amazing insects - amazing nature!

Vonne Pitcher
Vonne Pitcher

I cannot for the life of me pick out the orchid preying mantis.  Must be one of the best disguises of the lot.

Ananya Shukla
Ananya Shukla

my god i cant believe we are the only living creatures who are not in harmony with nature.

Ned G.
Ned G.

Amazing creatures. I wish I had that power, so I can blend in with my surroundings, haha.

X. Tang
X. Tang

Amazing! Incredible creation!

Nagraj V.
Nagraj V.

Camouflage at its best....fine images..

Jan K.
Jan K.

Such an amazing evolution on mimicry.

Maurizio Arena
Maurizio Arena

I took a picture   to a master of disguise, that was like an "olive tree". amazing !!  

pamela letstalkaboutcorsica
pamela letstalkaboutcorsica

perfect, nature always finds a way - instinctive preservation, pity we humans don't possess a mighty dose of instinctive preservation, if we did, we wouldn't be treating this world as we do, would we. Wonderful shots !

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