Evo-devo biologist extraordinaire Antónia Monteiro is visiting campus this week, and she shared with us this photograph of a simply unbelievable Malaysian moth:
Macrocilix maia, Malaysia
Do you see the mural?
Mimicry is common in insects. Some adopt the cryptic appearance of sticks or leaves, some ape the stripes of stinging wasps, and some sport the colors of poisonous butterflies. There are caterpillars that look like bird droppings, and beetles that look like caterpillar frass. I’ve even seen a blister beetle that mimics a harvester ant running backward dragging a seed.
But Macrocilix maia is a first. It’s the only mimic insect I know that paints an entire scene. It looks like a watercolor. Two red-eyed muscomorph flies feed from fresh bird droppings, complete with light glinting off their wings. I’ve never seen anything like it!
The scant published research on the mural moth is systematic in nature, with nary a mention of the incredible mimicry. In fact, the photo-sharing site Flickr has outpaced any academic work: photographer Allan Lee reports in 2009 that the moth reinforces the imagery with a pungent odor. That’s the extent of our knowledge. Macrocilix maia is a Ph.D. project waiting to happen.
Aphantochilus rogersi (left) with prey
The most astounding arthropod I found in Ecuador last month wasn’t an ant, believe it or not, although it looks just like one from a few feet away.
Aphantochilus is a crab spider slightly over a centimeter long. The species isn’t exactly uncommon in the Neotropics- in fact, Aphantochilus has appeared previously on Myrmecos. Rather, it is spectacular for its color, size, shape, texture, and movement. Aphantochilus is a convincing stand-in for Cephalotes atratus, the giant turtle ant, and every time I see one lurking about the margins of a turtle ant trail I do a double take and gleefully pass the next half hour watching it work.
Last month’s encounter was the first time I had a camera handy. Thus, some photographs to share with you folks.
A quiet moment
Although it may seem that the spider uses its impressive camouflage to fool its prey, I am not convinced.
The vision of most ants is rather rudimentary, enough that I think it unlikely such remarkable visual mimicry would yield enough of a payoff to be worthwhile. Ants perceive their environment predominately in a chemical medium. Instead, I suspect the spider intends to fool other visual predators- birds, maybe- that would normally pass up acidic chitinous ants but would happily take a spider. For more detailed explorations of the topic, see here and here.
Which is the spider, and which is the ant?
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens & 12mm extension tube on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 200, f/16, 1/250 sec. Indirect strobe bounced off white paper