Blogtober: The color orange

Until I sat down to create this post, I didn’t realize how many insects show orange at my park. When you think orange insects, you might first think of butterflies, such as Monarchs and Viceroys. But there’s way more insects than just those charismatic ones. Spiders too often had a rusty orange hue. I wondered why I had found and photographed so many orange insects/spiders long before I even thought of doing a Blogtober challenge, let alone selected this prompt. With Monarchs, the bright color is a signal to predators that they’re distasteful. Viceroys too– they are Mullerian mimics, in that they look enough like Monarchs to probably fool most predators, but also taste pretty nasty in order to reinforce the message that Monarch-like butterflies = nonedible.

Do all of these other bugs also taste bad? Are they riding on the Monarch’s coattails, benefitting from the association of distastefulness with the color orange? Or for that matter, is orange universally a signal of foul taste? Maybe the color is just a function of what they’re eating, i.e. maybe there’s lots of carotenoids in their diets? I don’t know. I went down a long rabbit hole looking for answers, but haven’t found them yet. Here’s a good article about the hows and whys in general of insect coloring: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00442-020-04738-1 I don’t have time to chase all the possibilities right now. I’ll keep an eye out for more research though, and update if there’s anything interesting that develops.

I eventually concluded that regardless of why so many bugs are orange, it did make them easier to spot against the green foliage. So maybe I’m seeing more orange bugs not because there actually are more of them than other colored bugs, but just because it’s so much harder to see the green and brown ones! Observer bias I think.

What do you think of my theories? Do you have a different explanation for the high number of orange bugs? Leave a comment below. Enjoy a small sampling of my orange bugs and spiders in the meantime!

An Orange-patched Smoky Moth
A robberfly, not sure what species yet. I’m too tired to find it.
Monarch butterfly
Can’t re-find my original posting of this moth on iNaturalist.
Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillars

I’d hoped to have more reading done about orange insects that I could tell you about. But I am really exhausted. If I have time in between the other prompts over the next couple weeks, perhaps I’ll come back here and update this post. Zzzzzzzzz…….

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