When a Friend is Really a Foe: A Case of Mistaken Identity

From stripes on tigers to the warning black and yellow colors of the monarch butterfly, disguises and warning colors are seen throughout nature and work so well that we have adopted them for our own use — hunting garb is an example. So it should come as no surprise that we often do not see what lives in our own backyards.

And so it is with my friend Julie, who has a small balcony on which has created what she calls a rest-stop for good insects and a feeding station for hummingbirds. One of her favorites is the monarch butterfly, which by the way has a copycat butterfly (the viceroy) that relies on the monarch’s colors and bitter taste to keep predators at bay. Another is the praying mantis – that resembles a twig.

Back to my story… This morning Julie called me in dismay because one of her favorite insects — the praying mantis — was munching on another — a monarch butterfly! Up until that moment, she believed the praying mantis was a garden friend that disposed of pests. Her rest-stop had become a man-made ambush for migrating monarchs, the very species she wanted to protect.

Monarch Being Eaten 10-7-13
Mantis Munching on a Monarch – Photo Courtesy Ben Heckscher

The denouement of my story is that among the mantis family are non-native (and large) examples that prey on insects as well as small reptiles, amphibians and even hummingbirds! The mantis in her rest-stop was one of these. Fooled again! A case of mistaken identity.

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