A very striking “MSN must see” picture from July that of a lavender praying mantis camouflaged on a lavender orchid from the Borneo rain forest of Malaysia by Thomas Marent of Minden Pictures/Solent News and Photo Agency. You might be tempted to label this as “lavender death,” for such it would be for any poor, unwitting insect victim. But not too fast. When I was in graduate school, I took a wonderful course in the Neurobiology of Behavior given by the late great Thomas Eisner (1929-2011), Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Chemical Ecology at Cornell University. Eisner gave brilliant lectures in which he pointed out that the color wheel of insects is quite different than our red-green-blue wheel. They don’t see red, but they do see much more in the violet and ultraviolet. Flowers tend to provide nice clearly visible little landing pads for pollinating insects. So why has the praying mantis evolved the matching lavender camouflage? It is protective and meant to thwart mantis-eating birds. Oh, and beyond this little lesson in physiological optics, it is a beautiful photograph, albeit a bit scary!
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