Nature shows us that physical violence is not always necessary for defensive purposes. When it comes to predatory attacks, most animals often have no choice but to respond with violence. However, defense methods vary across different animal species. Sometimes animals possess features that make them hard to spot by predators, making defensive action unnecessary. It seems that insects show the greatest diversity of defensive strategies when compared with other types of animals. There exists many insect species that disguise themselves from predators in order to avoid death. Stick insects, for example, are mistaken for twigs by their predators. It is well known that many insect species make use of camouflage, but not many people are aware that some insects can change their appearance in order to resemble entirely different insects. This method of survival can fool predators into thinking that their insect prey are actually a different insect species that taste bad. Researchers have only recently come to understand how some butterflies can transform into different types of butterflies that predators have no interest in consuming.
Butterflies are not the most vicious of insects. When it comes to predatory attacks on butterflies, violent forms of defense are not much of an option. However, one species of butterfly known as Heliconius numata can transform into another butterfly species that predators avoid on account of their unpleasant taste. These butterflies do not literally transform into an entirely different butterfly species, but the appearance of their wings can change. When some butterfly species are in danger from nearby predators, they can change the patterns on their wings in order to appear as a different species. This phenomena is known as “Müllerian mimicry.”
Ever since this form of mimicry was discovered, scientists have been unable to explain this incredible ability, until recently. Now a group of researchers have identified a supergene in the H. numata that can be switched on and off in response to threats in the environment. This supergene enables the transformation of wing patterns. It can be assumed that other butterfly species that are capable of this mimicry also possess a similar supergene which allows them to change their wing pattern designs. A supergene is a specific chromosomal region where multiple genes are found. Thanks to the science of genetics, scientists have now uncovered the secret behind this remarkable form of transformation and mimicry in certain butterflies.
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