|All animals that hunt need to catch their prey
before it flees. Some adopt remarkable disguises either to remain undetected
or to fool their victims into believing they are harmless. Camouflage and
mimicry allow prey to hide from their predators, but these techniques can
also benefit predators. By blending into their surroundings or taking on the
appearance of more harmless animals, predators can avoid detection by their
victims and in this way get close enough to attack them.
Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: Some predators disguise themselves as harmless animals. An example is the green lacewing larva. It feeds on woolly alder aphids, but it first has to get past the ants that protect the aphid. When it can, it plucks white, wool like wax from the aphids back and attaches this to its own back. The larva can then deceive the ants and get to the aphids more readily. The zone tailed hawk feeds on live prey, but it mimics the flight of a vulture, which eats only dead animals. The hawk deceives small mammals with its gliding flight and vulture like outline.
The harmless cleaner fish eats parasites from the skin of larger fish and swims into their mouths to remove food particles from between their teeth. The saber toothed blend has blue and black markings like the cleaner and imitates its swimming pattern. In this disguise, it can swim close enough to bite a chunk of flesh from its prey. Cheilinus is a flesh eating fish that takes on the colors of several different plant eating fish. It may swim with grazing goat fish and dart out when prey comes within range.
Matching the Background: Many animals try to blend in with their background. They can then sit still and wait for prey to come within reach. At the same time, their disguise protects them from larger predators. Instead of spinning a web, the crab spider, which has a pink body and legs, sits on the petals of a pink flower. Butterflies, hover flies, and bees fly in to feed on the flowers nectar. There they are seized by the waiting crab spider. Flower mantises use the same method. Some are green to match green petals and others are pink to blend with pink flowers. The color markings and projections on their bodies enhance their resemblance to a flower.
The spotted scorpion fish is well protected by poisonous spines as it hides on the seabed. Fleshy projections on its body make it look like a harmless, algae covered rock, until prey get too close. The anglerfish also blends in well with the sea bottom. A spine on top of its mouth looks edible. The anglerfish dangles the spine in front of its jaws and waits for fish to take the bait. The barracuda is light underneath and dark on top. It has light and dark stripes on its sides that resemble rays of sunlight filtered through the water. These colors make it difficult to see from any direction. It hangs motionless in the water until a fish swims by; then it darts out to catch it. As the slender trumpet fish swims vertically among the branches of soft corals, it changes its color to match its background. It is almost invisible to the small animals that it hunts.
Other predators mimic a harmless creature that does not frighten the desired prey. They may enhance a natural resemblance by imitating the other animals movements and behavior, or they may, like the lacewing larva, disguise their own appearance. This tactic allows small predators to approach animals that are larger than themselves.
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