Blogtober: Masked

It seems fitting that after writing about how maybe orange bugs seemed more prevalent just because they were easier to see amid the green leaves, today I write about masking and camouflage. I am fascinated by the different ways creatures have of disguising themselves. From cryptic patterns on their skin/exoskleleton, to even gluing pieces of plant to their backs, there are a ton of different ways across the animal kingdom, even skipping most of the mammals. I think costume and makeup designers often pay attention to the patterns on insects and reptiles too, because the times I’ve been watching a science fiction movie or TV show and had a sudden recognition of a certain bug’s pattern in the coloring of an alien race are numerous. Unfortunately I haven’t been taking notes along the way, so I don’t have specific examples. However, if there’s anybody out there looking for a thesis topic in entomology and arts, there you go! 🙂 I’d love to hear about it if you are or have looked into this. Leave me a comment below.

When I think about “masking,” I usually visualize something you can put on and take off, to change your appearance. Like a Halloween costume– you appear to be something you’re not, just for a few hours, then return to your normal self. I don’t know if the removability part applies to the animals I’m talking about though, usually the mask is something they keep on at all times to hide what they really are. The caterpillar of the Wavy-lined Emerald Moth is one animal that creates its own mask, by gluing bits of plant to its back so it looks like a walking clump of debris. It’s pretty amazing! I’ve looked at lots of photos and the type of plant matter seems to vary, sometimes bits of leaves and sometimes flower petal scraps. Which probably makes sense, depending on where the individual caterpillar wants to be or is. A brownish-green clump moving across a vivid yellow flower, for example, wouldn’t be camouflaged as well as one using scraps of the yellow flower petals or even flowerets. I’ve seen two of these caterpillars before, once in my garden in Rockville, and once at Huntley Meadows. Both times I only noticed them when a piece of “plant” started to move. Whoa!

Nope, no caterpillar under here. Just some plant debris.
The caterpillar was moving pretty quickly, giving me trouble focusing on it.
Not only was the caterpillar positively scurrying across my finger, this was taken 11 years ago. Phone cameras have improved a lot!

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