Nature presents many examples of organisms evolving to mimic other creatures. For instance, many butterfly species imitate the toxic monarch butterfly, presumably to deter predators from eating them.
A variety of animals impersonate plants, such as the stick insect, which resembles a twig. Several animals color themselves like flowers, such as flower crab spiders and ambush bugs, to camouflage themselves when attacking insects that approach the blossoms. [See Photos of Orchid Mantises & Other Plant Impersonators]
An orchid mantis chomps down on a butterfly it just lured in with its flowery disguise. However, the orchid mantis has a full flowery disguise, complete with legs shaped like petals, that is convincing enough for scientists to suggest this hunter not only uses the masquerade to hide from prey, but also to attract victims. Examples of such aggressive mimicry have been seen before in the wild; for instance, one species of bolas spider is known to attract male moths by imitating female moth sex pheromones.
Scientists have championed the idea of the orchid mantis as an aggressive mimic since the 1800s; notably, it was first suggested by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who, independent of Darwin, also conceived the theory of evolution through natural selection. However, this notion had never been confirmed, due in large part to how elusive the orchid mantis is, given how extremely rare it is even within its native habitat, the rainforests of Southeast Asia.
"The idea that the orchid mantis mimics a flower first came about over a century ago, but it was only ever just an idea — nobody had done the experiments to test whether it actually occurred," said study lead author James O'Hanlon, an evolutionary biologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. "Now, over a century later, we have textbooks and scientific articles stating that mantises mimic flowers as if it was an established fact.