Featured Guest Photo: A Spectacular Case of Mimicry
February 11, 2013 9 Comments
On occasion I receive photos from readers that are so remarkable I simply must share them (with the owner’s permission, of course). Recently I received a note from Len de Beer in Maputo, Mozambique, who was looking for help identifying a tiger beetle he had photographed on the beaches of the Maputo elephant reserve. My knowledge of Afrotropical tiger beetles is rudimentary, so I had to tap the expertise of fellow cicindelophile Dave Brzoska for the ID (many thanks, Dave), but in the ensuing correspondence Len sent me the following photograph that he took of another tiger beetle species while living in Madagascar:
A spectacular species to be sure, but the story behind its appearance is even more remarkable. This tiger beetle is one of two species in the Madagascan-endemic genus Peridexia, both of which exhibit color patterns that are a near-perfect match for that of the local pompilid wasp, Pogonius venustipennis (see photo below). According to Pearson & Vogler (2001), not only do these tiger beetles share the wasp’s bright yellow and black color pattern, but they also run in constant small circles (rather than the distinct, straight-line sprints that are more typical of tiger beetles) and fly readily when frightened, only to land again on the forest floor. These running and flying behaviors more closely resemble the foraging movements of the wasp than the movements of a typical tiger beetle, resulting in mimicry so effective that even tiger beetle collectors have been fooled and stung on the fingers when they attempted to collect their first Peridexia!
Camouflage is the most widely observed predator avoidance mechanism in tiger beetles, with numerous species known whose color patterns closely resemble or otherwise allow them to blend in with the color and texture of the soils found in their preferred habitats. Nevertheless, mimicry is common enough (although anecdotal evidence still far outweighs true experimental evidence). Pearson & Volgler (2001) list examples of tiger beetles resembling mutillid wasps (commonly called “velvet ants”) from North and South America, as well as India, and also mention a South American tiger beetle species, Ctenostoma regium, that is the same size and shape as Paraponera clavata (or “bullet ant”), a large solitary species that is purported to pack the most painful of all insect stings (that this is true, I am inclined to agree). Tiger beetles can also serve as models—there is a katydid in Borneo whose immatures bear a remarkable resemblance to arboreal species of tiger beetles in the genus Tricondyla (Pearson & Vogler 2001, Plates 26 and 27). It has also been suggested that mimicry in tiger beetles might not be restricted to Batesian associations (unprotected mimic and harmful model) but may also include Müllerian associations (both model and mimic are distasteful or harmful).
My sincere thanks to Len de Beer for allowing me to post his photographs of this remarkable tiger beetle and the wasp it mimics.
Pearson, D. L. & A. P. Vogler. 2001. Tiger Beetles: The Evolution, Ecology, and Diversity of the Cicindelids. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, xiii + 333 pp.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013 (text)