Tanto animais quanto plantas se camuflam para se esconder dos predadores ou para caçar melhor. No entanto, poucas técnicas de camuflagem são tão interessantes quanto à do Louva-a-Deus-Orquídea (Hymenopus coronatus), encontrado nas florestas no Sudeste da Ásia.
Este bonito inseto é uma réplica muito próxima de uma orquídea que está desabrochando. Ele usa essa capacidade tanto para se esconder de predadores quanto para atrair comida. Este raro Louva-a-Deus se esconde no meio de outras flores facilmente, em virtude de seu corpo rosa e patas que lembram pétalas.


Estudos já mostraram que ele chega a atrair 30% mais insetos para perto de si do que uma flor real. E quando as vítimas chegam perto dele, elas são capturadas em pleno ar.
Este é o único animal que tem aparência de flor para enganar suas presas. Um estudo com um espectrofotômetro mostrou que os insetos não conseguem diferenciá-lo de 30 flores presentes na área em que vive.
Evitando o verde monótono ou marrom da maioria dos louva-a-deus, o Louva-a-deus orquídea é resplandecente em branco e rosa. As partes superiores das suas pernas são muito achatadas e são em forma de coração, parecendo com pétalas. Em uma folha seria altamente visível, mas quando pousado sobre uma flor, é extremamente difícil de ver.


O mimetismo por predadores é bem conhecido. Por exemplo, aranhas caranguejo camuflam-se de acordo com a flor que estão, e podem mudar de amarelo para branco para combinar com sua flor hospedeira.
Esta é uma história evolucionária clássica e temos a pergunta a responder: o louva-a-deus orquídea evoluiu para imitar a flor, o que lhe permite esconder entre suas pétalas, para alimentar-se de insetos que são atraídos por ela?
Infelizmente, não houve nenhuma evidência para apoiar esta hipótese. Os louva-a-deus orquídea são raros, por isso o seu comportamento é pouco conhecido, exceto em cativeiro. Na verdade, ninguém sabe exatamente qual flor ele supostamente imita.
Novos estudos apontam que, embora ele seja de fato um mímico de flor – o primeiro animal conhecido a fazer isso – o louva-a-deus orquídea não se esconde em uma orquídea.  Aliás, ele não esconde nada.

Quando emparelhado ao lado da flor mais comum de seu habitat, os insetos aproximaram-se mais frequentemente do louva-a-deus orquídea do que das flores, mostrando que os louva-a-deus orquídea são atraentes para os insetos por si só, ao invés de simplesmente precisar se camuflar entre as flores.
Este fenômeno, conhecido como mimetismo agressivo, ocorre em outros animais. Eles liberam substâncias químicas que atraem os insetos.
Eles nem sequer escolhem ficar perto de flores.

Quando compararam a forma e cor do louva-a-deus orquídea com flores a partir da perspectiva de um inseto, o predador não se parece com qualquer espécie particular de flor, mas sim uma flor generalizada. Isso se encaixa com o que já sabemos: alguns dos melhores imitadores na natureza são imitadores imperfeitos, com características de diversas espécies como modelo.
Na verdade, estes insetos exploram uma brecha criada por ganhos de eficiência evolutiva.
O importante é que cada espécie tem uma história emocionante para contar e pode ajudar a moldar a nossa compreensão de como o mundo natural funciona.

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