Animal Mimicry Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

Do you ever wish you looked like someone or something else? Believe it or not, there are animals who do just that in order to survive. In this lesson, you will learn about animal mimicry and its importance for the survival of many species of animals.

That's Not a Stick You're Holding

You are walking through a forest on a gorgeous spring day. You see an interesting looking stick and reach down to pick it up. As you pick it up, it starts to MOVE! Wait a minute, a stick that moves? Congratulations, you've just met a walking stick, one of the most well-known users of mimicry.

Physical mimicry is when an animal looks like another plant or animal. Behavioral mimicry is when an animal displays a behavior that mimics another plant or animals' behaviors. Both of these forms of mimicry not only help protect animals from their predators, but they can also enable predators to attract their prey. Let's take a look at some of these interesting animals.

Physical Mimicry

If you've played dress up or worn a costume, you may have looked like a firefighter or a princess. Animals using physical mimicry are kind of like someone wearing a costume, all day, every day.

Imitating Others for Protection

Many animals use physical mimicry to defend themselves. For example, the viceroy butterfly looks almost identical to the monarch butterfly. When the monarch is in its caterpillar stage, it eats milkweed plants that remain in its body as it grows. Birds find the monarch butterfly distasteful because of the milkweed, so they will stay away from it. Because the viceroy butterfly resembles the monarch, it is left alone too, even though it doesn't taste like the monarch.

Additionally, spicebush swallowtail butterflies look just like bird poop in their earliest stages. Later in their life cycle, these insects turn green and develop spots on their body that make them look like green snakes. Poop, snakes...these caterpillars are pros at mimicry!

A viceroy butterfly is only different from the monarch because of the black line on its hind wings.
viceroy butterfly

Camouflage for Protection

Leaf-litter toads in Central America live on the forest floor and look just like fallen leaves. By camouflaging themselves, or blending into their environment, the toads' are less likely to be seen by their predators.

A spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on a leaf.
spicebush catepillar

Mimicry for Hunting

Other animals use physical mimicry to attract or distract their prey. For example, anglerfish tempt their prey to swim near with bobber-like lures that hang from their heads. This mimics a fishing lure that a person might use to catch fish. Once the prey gets close, the anglerfish eats it.

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