Amazonian Bird Chick Mimics Toxic Caterpillar

Posted on February 23, 2015

Scientists have discovered that an Amazonian bird chick (Laniocera hypopyrra) mimics a large toxic caterpillar to avoid getting eaten. The researchers noticed the bird inhabited an area that typically has very high losses to nest predators. However, the chicks of the bird species were surviving despite nesting in a dangerous area.

When the researchers were conducting a long-term avian ecological study in 2012 they came across a Laniocera hypopyrra nest at the Pantiacolla Lodge in the upper Madre de Dios River in southeastern Peru. They noticed a newly hatched chick had downy feathers that had orange barbs with white tips. A chick the nest was moving its head side to side in a manner similar to that of hairy caterpillars. The researchers also found a poisonous caterpillar of similar size and hair coloring nearby.

The researchers think this is an example of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless species pretends to be a harmful species. They note that Batesian mimicry is very rare in vertebrates. The bird chicks in this situation are tricking predators into thinking they are toxic spiny caterpillars.

A research paper on the bird chick mimicry, "Morphological and Behavioral Evidence of Batesian Mimicry in Nestlings of a Lowland Amazonian Bird," is published here in the journal, The American Naturalist.

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