Ant-mimicking cricket nymph
Ant-mimicking cricket nymph (Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia)

Life isn't always what it appears to be, and there's no better example of this in nature than the marvel of insect mimicry. While you might be aware of insects that have features resembling leaves, flowers, sticks or even eyes, some of the most fascinating examples of this natural phenomenon are the insects that mimic other insects.

There are several reasons why an insect might adopt such clever copy-cat traits, but it usually boils down to either warding off predators (defensive mimicry) or tricking prey into thinking they're harmless when they're really not (aggressive mimicry).

For ant-mimicking cricket nymphs of the Macroxiphus genus, their appearance is a cut-and-dried example of defensive mimicry. After all, when you're just a little baby katydid or bush-cricket trying to make your way in a dangerous world, it helps to look like you're a foot soldier in a massive, powerful army of ants.

Let's take a moment to learn about some other insects (and spiders!) that have evolved mimicked traits.

Hoverflies

Inane hoverfly
(Photo: Gabi Wolf/Shutterstock)

There are many different species of hoverfly, and nearly all of them resemble bees and wasps in one way or another. Their uncanny appearance largely functions to ward off predators, however sometimes it's used to actively harm other species. In the case of Volucella inanis (above), their wasp-like features allows them to lay their eggs in wasp nests, where their larvae can feed on the wasp larvae.


Viceroy and Monarch butterflies

Viceroy butterfly
(Photo: John E Heintz Jr/Shutterstock)

When you think of insect mimicry, monarch and viceroy butterflies are usually the first to come to mind. These two species exhibit Müllerian mimicry, which occurs when a pair of species with a common predator benefit from looking alike because they are "equally unpalatable."


Wasp beetles

Wasp beetle
(Photo: Marek R. Swadzba/Shutterstock)

The wasp beetle (Clytus arietis) is another virtually harmless plant-munching insect that uses its wasp-like colors and patterns to ward off any hungry predators. In addition to its appearance, this longhorn beetle also emits a buzzing noise when threatened.


Ant-mimicking spiders

Ant-mimicking spider
(Photo: Thithawat.S/Shutterstock)

While not technically an insect, ant-mimicking spiders are an example of a creepy-crawly that employs both defensive and aggressive mimicry. While some species use their appearance and chemical smell to hunt down and eat actual ants, others use it to escape predation from insects like mantises, which generally avoid going after ants.


Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.