Why are there imperfect mimics?

A few colleagues and I recently had a paper published in Nature on “A comparative analysis of the evolutionary of imperfect mimicry”. Those of you fortunate to have a Nature subscription can read the paper here.  Alternatively, you can email me and I’ll send you a copy.  Unfortunately, I can’t make the paper available due to issues with copyright from Nature (see elsewhere for details of scientists’ love-hate relationship with publishers…) but I can summarise the paper here.
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Newly-hatched preying mantis - isn't he cute!?

So our lab ordered some mantids from Home Depot (which don’t seem to be available so I presume it’s a seasonal product) for predation experiments. I was under the impression that they needed specific conditions to hatch that wouldn’t be met until next June. Then someone noticed one crawling over a desk. Sure enough, there were a few dozen wandering aimlessly about, migrating away from the egg case that was sitting in a corner of the lab. I think we got most of them, but those that we didn’t catch should take care of our fruitfly problem!

If you go down to the stormwater management facility today, you’re sure of a big surprise!

I’ve been neglecting nature in the past few posts, focusing on in-depth (and probably quite dull-looking) reviews of pseudoscientific treatments. Here, I’m going to show some pretty (I think, anyway) photos of some bugs! In a post on the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, I included a couple of photographs that I took while identifying invertebrates from some field samples that I took earlier this year. The project is looking at the biodiversity of stormwater management facilities (SMFs) in Ottawa, Canada. I wasn’t expecting to find much, as these kinds of ponds and small lakes tend to be fairly small, unimpressive and dirty. However, I was pleasantly surprised!

The diversity of invertebrates in Ottawa ponds

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Caterpillar eyespots

For the past 18-or-so months, Tom Hossie, a PhD student working in the same lab as me, has been carrying out research into caterpillar eyespots. This is an absolutely fascinating area of research, not only because it involves looking at pretty animals, but because there are so many unanswered questions to investigate. Here’s an example of the kind of caterpillar that sparked his interest in this topic:

Papilio troilus caterpillar, photo by Ryan Hagerty

The little guy even looks like he has eyelids!  Tom is seeking to answer as many questions as possible during his 3-4 year PhD and has made a roaring start with an extensive field study that will hopefully be published soon (I’ll blog about that once it is in print!). I’d highly recommend checking out his blog (http://caterpillar-eyespots.blogspot.com) for more details about the project and eyespots in general!  He has lots of excellent photos from his current trip to Costa Rica.