Protective Coloration

“The laws of nature are but the thoughts and agencies of God— the modes in which He works and carries out the designs of His prov­idence and will”. – Tyron Edwards

Have you ever seen a walking- stick? A measuring worm? If you have, undoubtedly, you have spent some time in close observa­tion to determine whether the in­sect or the larva was actually a living creature because of its re­semblance in shape and color to its surroundings. In nature, we find many beautiful and striking examples of protective coloration or protective mimicry.

What is really understood by these two terms—protective colora­tion and mimicry, you may ask? In explaining their meaning, one must view them as evidences of the great Designer, who in His providential care of even the most insignificant creatures has provided many species of insects, birds and animals with coloration which blends in with their natural habi­tat. Thus, you will find a remark­able similarity to other plants and animals or to natural objects upon which they live. Because of this likeness, they have a natural pro­tection against their enemies.

However, there is a distinction in use of these two phrases which might interest the reader. When referring to this coloration among animals we designate it as “pro­tective coloration”, while the term “protective mimicry” is restricted to insects.

One might be surprised, while traveling in the Arctic region, to discover that a seemingly station­ary object in the vast landscape is actually a living creature. In this cold bleak land of ice and snow the polar bear and snowy owl blend perfectly with the blanket of white. How remarkably does the tiger and the leopard harmonize with the shadows of jungle glades and fol­iage! Nor would one detect cer­tain animals in the dry hot desert area, for they are colored like the sand and rocks. Another inter­esting example can be found in the bamboo forests of the Orient, where the bongo’s striped body makes an indistinguishable blend­ing with its immediate environ­ment.

However, it is not necessary to search in such distant parts of the world for vivid examples. Cer­tainly, we’ve all at some time seen evidences of it in our own neigh­borhood. Frogs and other grass animals are usually colored green to shield them from their natural opponents. Many birds, too, as the quail, are sheltered by their close resemblance to the place selected to build the nest.

Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the small lizard-like chameleon, which will instantaneously change the color of its entire body to match whatever object upon which it rests. Because of this sudden transformation, it‘s kept as a pet by some individuals.

Another form of protective color­ation is seasonal, that is, the animal varies in appearance during differ­ent times of the year. Some com­mon species of rabbits and mem­bers of the weasel family exchange their summer coats of brown for a winter garment of white. The little walking stick is green in sum­mer, but, as fall advances, it is transformed into a brown insect.

Why is a fish dark above and light below? Have you ever thought of it as having definite form of protection? Imagine, the enemies of the fish looking up to­ward it from the depths below. Not so easily will they be able to distinguish it from the light filter­ing through the water. On the other hand, the adversary when approaching from above and look­ing down into the water finds it difficult to observe a darker object as the light grows less intense.

In the realm of insects, there are very striking and unusual ex­amples of protective mimicry. The large orange-red, black-striped Monarch butterfly which is com­monly found on milkweeds is very distasteful to its enemies—the birds, while the Viceroy butterfly, which is nearly identical in color and shape is a treat to them. How­ever, birds do not attack them so readily because they appear to be one of those unsavory Monarchs. There are certain beetles which resemble caterpillars, undesirable to birds. How greedy would be these birds if they detected them as the beetles that they actually are, but they avoid them, as they are deceived by their form of pro­tective mimicry.

A few more interesting examples can be mentioned among insect life. Because of its “twiggy” appear­ance. the walking stick is very difficult to discern. Its body is about the size of a matchstick with six tooth-pick-like legs projecting from it, making it practically impossible to distinguish it from the scrubby oak on which it is so frequently found.

A large brown measuring worm, when frightened or in danger, straightens its body and gives the appearance of a broken twig. While certain tropical butterflies will fold their wings in an upright position when at rest, exposing the under­side of the wing, which is a perfect pattern of a leaf, even including veins. Some moths are not detect­ed on the leaves on which they live, because they appear as a normal leaf-spot, while cocoons often re­semble broken twigs, and thus can continue their life cycle without being molested.

How fascinating it is to observe these things in nature round about us! If only we study these minute, but wonderful forms of God’s greatness. And then let man say there is no design and purpose in this universe? No creator?

Rather let us exclaim, “How manifold are Thy works in all the earth. . . . the whole world is filled with Thy glory.” What a com­fort it is for a Christian to realize how perfectly God takes care of His creation from day to day. With what assurance we may sing.

“My life in all its perfect plan — Was ordered ere my days began.”