Why This Harmless Caterpillar Disguises Itself As A Venomous Snake
A convincing disguise transforms the hawk moth caterpillar into a small snake to ward off potential predators.
Mimicking the appearance of a snake by retracting its legs and expanding its anterior body segments helps the caterpillar ward off predators.
Upon closer inspection, however, one will see that this ‘snake’ is abnormally short in length; and while its topside looks pretty non-descript, the Hemeroplanes caterpillar has the ability to put on a snake disguise at the moment it feels threatened.
The mimicry technique the hawk moth caterpillar uses can fool birds or other hungry caterpillars that might otherwise eat it. Evidently, this disguise can fool humans, too, and the bug’s serpentine strike can feel lifelike and threatening.
Impersonating intimidating or unappetizing animals is one of many camouflage techniques that both predator and prey species use to survive. Other species use concealing coloration to blend in with their background, like arctic foxes and polar bears in snowy landscapes.
Some animals, like zebras, tigers, and leopards, employ disruptive coloration to make it hard for others to see the outline of their bodies. Others, still, disguise themselves to blend in with their surroundings in shape and texture rather than color.