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Every week there are new marvels to look for in the outdoors, and Discover Nature highlights these attractions. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Josh Hartwig brings us the stories of river otters, luna moths, red buds, and other actors as they take center stage in nature’s theater.You can hear Discover Nature, Mondays at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Discover Nature: Wildlife Impostors

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Missouri Department of Conservation
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Red Milkweed Beetle

Discover Nature this week with Missouri’s wildlife impostors. All wildlife seeks to endure. But rather than hiding from predators, some harmless animals flaunt their presence. They can be so bold because they resemble other animals that taste bad or cause them harm. These harmless impostors benefit from the reputations of the animals they mimic. This survival technique is called mimicry.

We swat at flies but avoid swinging at bumblebees and yellow jackets because we know they can sting us. Certain flies sport the black and yellow markings of stinging insects and escape the blows of large animals – and humans – who are cautious of them. Although harmless, their appearance wards off predators. The impostors don’t hide or flee but are saved through mistaken identity.

Milkweed bugs feed on milkweed and take up unpleasant substances from these plants. The bugs are large and lavishly splashed with orange. Predators who sample these bugs become sick and learn to avoid them. But their aversion to this bold-colored bug is carried over to equally colored prey. A different insect, the milkweed beetle, does not taste bad. But its resemblance to milkweed bugs deters predators.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but for wildlife it can also increase an animal’s chances for survival.

Learn more about Missouri’s wildlife survival skills at MissouriConservation.org.

Josh Hartwig is the host of Discover Nature and a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
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