Across the animal kingdom we can see various forms of colourfully frightening eyespots that lurk at the end of animals' backs, heads, tails and wings. These are very deceitful and intelligent evolutionary adaptations for defence, often tricking and shocking even the most ferocious of predators!
Those animals lower in the food chain, have many threats against them – flying, leaping, jaw-snapping predators on the hunt for them. Defence is the essential key to survival, and tricks or anatomic adaptations to deter and use against predators are both varied and fascinating. Eyespots are one of the most eccentric, yet intriguing methods of defence used - here are some of the most amazing!
5. Indian Cobra
A highly venonmous snake, the Indian Cobra is a much feared predator. With the ability to spit venom and puncture lungs with its sharp fangs you might wonder why the need for eyespots. Just like any animal, the Indian Cobra is open to attack from behind at any time, so when feeling threatened these well-dressed little eye spots are reared up into the air, assisted with violent hissing and spitting. The mongoose, the Indian Cobras biggest threat, is often scared away by this warning, leaving their usual spots of attack (at the back of the victim’s necks) untouched.
4. Moth Caterpillar
Numerous species of birds and mammals like to make little snacks out of caterpillars. They are juicy, an easy catch and packed with nutrition making them a favourable meal for predators. But this caterpillar is more frightening than juicy...
Moth Caterpillar Eyespots
Just before a bird seizes and gobbles it up, unexpectedly the moth caterpillar rears up from the foliage and turns itself into a terrorizing monster! With various bright threatening markings, eyespots and false disturbing heads this defence employed by the caterpillar is very effective at deterring birds and other carnivorous predators away. Cleverly, the fake eyespots appear to belong to a head of a much bigger, more ferocious and more scary animal.
3. Butterfly Fish
When you are a large species of fish attempting to catch a smaller one to fill up your stomach, many fish look like they could be caught at any angle. The one sure way guaranteed to swallow a fish whole, is head first – preventing any fins, tails and spines puncturing and getting stuck in the throat. Fish being forward swimmers can only escape by moving forwards - which all predatory fish are aware of. This has directed evolutionary techniques in avoiding predators - with the Butterfly Fish being a great example.
Long Nosed Butterfly Fish
Butterfly Fish have the capability to blur the distinction between their heads and tails – another great example of the remarkable tactic of evolving a pair of false eyes! These eyes sit at the tail end of their bodies, with their real eyes being disguised by a black band that runs across the face. This is a devious trick, preventing predators that hunt from behind from attacking and leaving them startled whilst the agile, beautiful Butterfly fish swims off in the wrong direction.
A very similar strategy can be seen in South America’s Oscar’s Cichlid - a victim of predatory piranhas. The clearly defined eye markings on the stem of its tail, gives it a better chance of escaping, just like the Butterfly fish when due an attack. The tail is the best area for a fish to flash its decoy eyes but this varies across species and false eyes lay splashed across fins, heads and various other parts of the body. This type of defence is known as automimicry or intraspecific mimicry.
2. Killer Whale
The eyespots of the Killer Whale are a reserved transition of defence. Instead of defending against killer predators, these big, “cute” eyespots are actually used for protection against injuries and damage from prey species.
A lot of attempts to escape from predators involve aiming/pecking and damaging the predator’s providing time and sufficient damage to escape. Having these large fake eyes deters panicking prey species from their real eyes lower down in the head, keeping them protected.
1. Emperor Moths
Yes that’s right! Moths are the masters of producing astonishing replicas of eyes across their delicate wings. The perfection of these eyes is rather remarkable and even daunting when seen out in the wild. All sorts of variations exist, ranging from simple dark spots to perfect detailed replicas of eyes. A grand example of this beautiful technique can be seen in the Emperor Moth.
The fake eyes of a Moth
The eyes that play bluff and deceive enemies are responsible for protecting the emperor moth. The striking patterns divert predators from the vulnerable parts of the body, avoiding predation and damage. The imitated eyes also serve as warnings to birds, instantly making them recoil at the sight of large glaring eyes!
Of course the eyes look like they belong to a much bigger species than just a moth – but it’s a clever use of defence that has caught on across the animal kingdom, showing a kick ass form of defence against the ultimate predators.