Wallace discovered animals’ secrets to survival

Glowing body parts that warn predators, colors to camouflage, body parts that look like other things in nature — animals have crazy cool adaptations that help them survive.

Alfred R. Wallace was a naturalist, explorer and biogeographer during the 1800s, and when he was studying creatures around the world, he found that those with the best adaptations survived the best. For instance, giraffes with the longest legs and necks could reach into the treetops to each leaves when grass on the ground dried up, and those giraffes then survived while others died because they couldn’t reach the nutrition they needed. Antelope with short or weak legs couldn’t outrun their predators, so they died and the antelope that had healthy, long legs survived. Those traits were then passed down to their offspring.

Animals have many secrets to survival, but Wallace found four specific ones. He called them protective coloring, protective warnings, protective resemblance and mimicry.

Protective coloring

Protective coloring is when creatures’ coloring differs dependent on where they live, to help them blend in to their surroundings to help them hide from predators.

Two types of tiger beetles from the same genus show this, because they are colored differently to help them match the earth coloring where they live. Cincidela maritime is pale bronze with yellow spots to match the sandy shores where it dwells. Cincidela campestris is deep green with yellow spots to blend in with the grassy banks where it lives.

Photo of a brown beetle

Cincidela maritime

Photo of a green beetle

Cincidela campestris

Protective warnings

Instead of camouflage, some creatures draw attention to themselves to warn predators that they are distasteful or have an unappetizing smell.

For instance, fireflies and glow worms are nocturnal and soft-bodied, making them easy prey, but their warning lights tell predators that they have a bad smell and taste.

Photo of a firefly

(Make your own glowing pool)

Protective resemblance

Some creatures look just like another natural object, helping them blend in to their surroundings and protect them from predators.

The buff-tipped moth contracts its wings so it looks like a piece of a broken stick. The yellow patches at the end of the wings even help it look freshly broken from a branch.

Photo of a buff-tipped moth


Creatures that use protective mimicry look so close in appearance to other creatures that they could be mistaken for them, even though they may not belong to the same family or order.

(Native bees: The true sweat bees)

The hover fly mimics a bee so that predators will think it has a stinger, but it doesn’t.

Photo of a hover fly

Photo of an American hover fly by Calibas, via Wikimedia Commons

(10 children’s books all about nature)

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