When Is Biomimicry Not Really Biomimicry?

Jonathon Markowski
November 22nd 2013

Recently the internet has become fascinated with a fruit fly found in the United Arab Emirates whose wings appear to have an ornate pattern deliberately resembling an ant-like insect. With some experts confirming that the pattern indeed represents an ant, the image has been explained in a different light by Morgan D. Jackson, an entomology student at the University of Guelph in Canada.

Jackson elaborates that the remarkable pattern is probably something more akin to a Rorschach test than an 'intentional' natural phenomenon. During mating rituals and as means to scare or fool predators, many insects will contort their entire bodies and engage in movements and behaviors far more complex than simply displaying an image, often to disguise themselves as a predator. Merely having a patterned wing would be a fairly simplistic form of biomimicry for these creatures. Looking at images of other related species, the ant pattern may just be one of many variations, much like Rorschach's ink blots.

The cautionary tale here is that our human perspective causes us to look at complex visual images and look for the connection to something we already know, even if we have to force it; it's how our brains work. Jackson warns that this may lead us to infer biomimicry in situations where there is no evolutionary explanation to back it up.

Read a great explanation in more detail on his blog at biodiversityinfocus.com

Photo via Peter Roosenschoon

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