In many insects, an organism may not rely only on crypsis for survival. There may be some secondary means of defense once crypsis has failed and the prey has been detected by a potential predator. Insects that are cryptic at a distance but conspicuous when seen close up (including the banded larvae and arctiid moths mentioned above) are often chemically protected. This type of multiple defense is also illustrated by the moth caterpillar in Fig. 1C. If the caterpillar is disturbed and begins to move it can expose a series of glands in the dorsal cuticle of several segments toward the front of the body. These are visible as a pair of partial bands in Fig. 1D, the largest immediately to the right of the largest white-colored region. These produce a pungent odor and probably provide a potential chemical defense against birds and other predators.
The effectiveness of crypsis will also show complex interactions with the visual processing abilities of the specialist predator or the guild of predators. Some insects that rely on camouflage for survival often exhibit extreme individual variation. One example is the tropical evening brown, Melanitis leda. This large brown butterfly is common throughout the Old World tropics. In wet—dry seasonal environments, the species shows classical seasonal polyphenism (i.e., distinct color patterns that result from phenotypic plasticity), with a wet season form having conspicuous marginal eyespots and a cryptic dry season form without such eyespots. The latter form relies on survival through crypsis on a resting background of dead brown leaves (Fig. 1A). In large numbers of the dry season form it is difficult to find two individuals with exactly the same color pattern. Dramatic variation across individuals is produced by high genetic variation in several different pattern elements across the wing (such as the contrast and brightness of particular patches and bands and the background wing color in different regions). This variation can be interpreted as an evolutionary response involving "apostatic selection" to make it more difficult for browsing predators in the leaf litter to form a specific "search image" for a particular form of dead leaf pattern corresponding to the color pattern of the prey. Although like many of the detailed ideas about the significance of crypsis and particular animal color patterns, this hypothesis remains to be tested rigorously, it does once again illustrate the fascination of crypsis.
See Also the Following Articles
Aposematic Coloration • Defensive Behavior • Eyes and Vision • Industrial Melanism • Mimicry
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Endler, J. A. (1984). Progressive background matching in moths, and a quantitative measure of crypsis. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 22, 187-231. Kettlewell, H. B. D. (1973). "The Evolution of Melanism." Clarendon Press, Oxford.
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University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst. Thery, M., and Casas, J. (2002). Predator and prey views of spider camouflage. Nature 415, 133.
James N. Hogue
California State University, Northridge
Since the dawn of humanity, the organisms that share our world have captured our imagination and influenced our thoughts, dreams, and fears. This influence is particularly true of insects, which impact nearly every facet of human activity. In addition to serving as objects of scientific inquiry, competitors for resources, carriers of disease, and food, insects have made a marked impact on the cultural aspects of human societies. Cultural entomology is the study of the role of insects in those human affairs that are practiced for the nourishment of the mind and soul, such as language and literature, music, folklore, religion, art, and recreation. These activities that pervade primitive and modern human societies are concerned primarily with life's meaning rather than its function.
Despite their extra appendages and different strategies for making a living, insects look and behave enough like humans to serve as models for friends, enemies, teachers, and entertainers. This status permits insects to act as objects on which to impart human qualities and as the source of qualities that can be incorporated into the framework of human ideology and social structure. It is not surprising then to find insects playing a host of roles in the oral and written traditions throughout human history, ranging from folk tales to the holy writings of the world's most prominent religions.
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