Watch Where You Step

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but animals here take camouflage to a whole next level.  And no one does this better than insects.

This is most apparent at night, when most insects are on the move under cover of darkness.  This is really the only time to catch them in the act, as movement is often the only clue that they are something other than a particularly leggy stick or leaf.

Not a stick

A familiar one is the stick insect.  There are several species here, and much variation within species.  They, obviously, mimic twigs physically, but also mimic them behaviorally.  Walking sticks will sway as they move, emulating a stick’s movement in the wind.  When disturbed or handled they will tuck in all their legs and drop, blending in with the debris.  And they are the ultimate method actors, sometimes keeping up the charade even after they are picked up again.

Not a leaf.

We’ve been seeing a lot of these lately:  hooded mantises.  This thing is almost invisible on a leafy bush when they tuck their legs in.  In this case, however, the camouflage is less of a defense and more of an ambush tactic.  These are predators, and can nab a smaller insect from the air with those claws faster then the eye can see.

Not a leaf…I think?

But the reigning kings of camo are katydids, which can mimic leaves down to venation and scarring.  Look at that thing!  That looks like an Etsy project!  Like someone glued green wire to a dead leaf.  It’s even wrinkled and serrated on the edges.

It blows my mind to think of the evolutionary pressures to produce such accurate mimicry.  To think of all the combinations of genes and behaviors selected to have an insect so perfectly suited to a plant or substrate.  Seeing one of these, recognizing its identity, reminds me of how many I don’t see, how many have camouflage so effective I miss them entirely.

So watch where you step.  That leaf may not be a leaf.