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Master Gardener Journal  


C R E A T U R E   C O M F O R T S



Nature's Mimics

by Kris Lecakes-Haley,
Master Gardener Intern


We frequently marvel at the beautiful manifestation of nature evidenced by our trees, plants and flowers, but were you aware of the many creatures that mimic those plants? That's right...creatures!

One example is the Dead Leaf Mantis. It perfectly exemplifies its name by looking exactly like a dead, dry, brown leaf. And although tiny, it is fierce, frightening away enemies by surprising them with a sudden and unexpected unfolding of its wings...considerably increasing its size. Then there is the Leaf Insect, among nature's most amazing artists of imitation. Its flat veined body looks almost exactly like a smooth-edged netted leaf, or at least what that leaf might look like after a brief encounter with leaf cutter ants. Its color slowly changes with age, from vibrant to dull green and finally to brown.

Stick Insects, which mimic their namesake, look just like...you guessed it...sticks or branches. Long and brown, with legs that look like twiggy offshoots from the main branch, they grow to over a foot in length, making them the longest insect in the world! Another family member, green in color, is called the Thorny Stick Insect, with threatening spikes covering its body to keep enemies at bay. Reportedly, even wild animals such as monkeys have been known to avoid this spiky little fellow.

Finally, there are the Flower Mantids and the Orchid Mantids. Flower mantids assume the appearance of the flowers upon which they live. They prey on small insects that innocently alight, thinking they are safely perched on a flower. Within seconds the insects find themselves in the clutches of the mantid's very powerful front legs (which resemble beautiful flower petals), on their way to becoming a quick meal. The similar body of the orchid mantis mimics the appearance of the center of an orchid, making it just as alluring to passing insects.

Studying such remarkable creatures as these yields both fascinating and useful information. Next time you're about to pick up that twig, or pluck that gorgeous orchid...if it moves...watch your fingers!

Sources:
Ling, Judy. Incredible Insects.

Photos courtesy of Mark Watson





Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated April 29, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
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