Deimatic

Most people are aware that butterflies and moths have “eye spots” on their wings. What those eye spots are for is less widely known. When they are threatened by a predator such as a hungry bird, moths may flash those eye spots so for a moment the bird sees an owl and hesitates. A split second is all that is needed for the escape. This kind of activity is called “deimatic” behavior. It’s a bluff, something that throws a predator off its purpose for an instant. It’s not just eye spots. Cats that feel threatened arch their back and puff up their hair and manage to look much larger and much nastier. Preying mantises may suddenly flash bright colors. Cephalopods may flash bands of bright color. Some caterpillars have eyespots and coloring that can suddenly look like a snake, ideal for startling a hungry bird. The Frilled lizard’s colorful head frill can be suddenly flashed, the lizard raising its head and thrashing its tail in a remarkable display. Spirama moths spread their wings when they are resting, the color pattern looking like the eyes and mouth of a large snake. There are thousands of examples of deimatic behavior, but what they all have in common is startlling predators to get that split second that makes the difference between getting away and being lunch.

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