Support
Subscribe
Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.

DONATE

You are here

How a Bird Came to Look Like a Caterpillar

In nature, one way to avoid being eaten is to look like something you’re not
© David Santiago View Large

The Cinereous Mourner is a small, ashy-gray bird that lives in the forest understory of the Amazon Basin. And it’s taking mimicry to the next level: when viewed from above, lying alone in its cup-shaped nest, its chick is a near match to a highly toxic caterpillar — one that snakes and monkeys won’t eat. The chick even waves its head like a caterpillar, increasing the illusion.
This show is made possible by Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle, Idie Ulsh, and the Horizons Foundation.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

How a Bird Came to Look Like a Caterpillar

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Amazon nature ambient]

In nature, one way to avoid being eaten is to look like something you’re not—ideally, something that tastes really awful — or that might even kill you.

Science calls this (pron: BATES-ee-an) Batesian mimicry, named for a 19th century naturalist. Bates found that some perfectly edible butterflies had evolved color patterns that mimic those of toxic butterflies, which predators avoid.

Well, these butterflies are not alone.

The Cinereous Mourner is a small, ashy-gray bird that lives in the forest understory of the Amazon Basin. And it’s taking mimicry to the next level: its chick looks like a poisonous caterpillar!

[Cinereous Mourner call, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/98606, 0.10-.14]

The chick is covered in vivid orange feathers punctuated with black dots. Lying alone in its cup-shaped nest, it’s a near match to a highly toxic caterpillar — one that snakes and monkeys won’t eat. The chick even waves its head like a caterpillar, increasing the illusion.

Cinereous Mourners live in an area where many birds’ nestlings are routinely lost to predators—and this may explain how a bird wound up dressed as a deadly caterpillar.

 [Cinereous Mourner call, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/98606, 0.10-.14]

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

This show is made possible by Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle, Idie Ulsh, and the Horizons Foundation.

###
 
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by ML 225024 B. Oshea and ML 98606 D Finch.
BirdNote’s theme music composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler; Managing Producer: Jason Saul; Editor: Ashley Ahearn; Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone; Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill.
© 2019 Tune In to Nature.org   March 2019   Narrator: Michael Stein
 
ID# LANHYP-01-2019-03-13    LANHYP-01

REFERENCES

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25560558

About the nestling
https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26689-zoologger-the-bird-that-mim...

Sights & Sounds

Related topics:

Related field notes:

Home
Shows
Galleries
More