Warning Signs

By Brett Dufur | May 1, 2015
From Xplor: May/June 2015

Every day, colors move us. Green means Go. Red means Whoa! Nature works the same way. Many critters use warning colors to tell predators: Stop! I’m dangerous. I’m poisonous. I taste yucky. Here are some creatures that use warning colors to shout it out.

Black and White Stinks

What’s black with a white stripe? Exactly. The striped skunk is the easiest mammal to identify for a reason. Standing out is what skunks do best. That way, after a super-stinky blast of “back off,” predators are sure to remember black and white means, “Mind your own business!”

Red Means Yuck

The red milkweed beetle is about as tasty as turnip ice cream. It’s poisonous, too! Its bright red color is a warning to birds and other predators to stay away. This half-inch-long beetle gets its yuck factor from the milkweed plant, its only food source.

Orange Means Icky

A monarch’s brilliant orange wings shout to birds, “Whoa!” As caterpillars, monarchs eat only milkweed, a poisonous plant that makes the caterpillars and the adult butterflies they turn into taste icky. In addition, the monarch’s body is tough and rubbery. A bird can pinch it hard enough to find out it tastes gross, and the monarch can still fly away.

White Means Whoa

Goodness snakes! When alarmed, the western cottonmouth vibrates its tail and stretches its mouth out wide, showing the white lining. This defensive display warns predators not to come any closer. Steer clear! Observe this venomous snake from a distance.

Yellow and Black – Stay Back

The yellow and black stripes on a bumblebee mean “warning!” Queen and worker bumblebees can deliver painful stings. Bumblebees don’t go looking for a fight, though. They sting to defend their nest.

Red Means Yeow

Red means “stop,” and the red velvet ant is no exception. When threatened, these furry insects — which are wasps, not ants — can sting. The sting is so painful, some people call velvet ants cow killers.

You Want a Piece of Me?

Who’s gonna mess with this colorful caterpillar? Nobody! The hotdog-sized hickory horned devil is harmless, but what bird would be hungry enough to find out? Get too close and the devil lifts its head and swings its orange spines, like a boxer warming up for a knockout. Acting more dangerous than it really is gives this caterpillar a leg up on survival.

Spider Signal

The red hourglass on the bottom of the venomous black widow signals “stay away!” These spiders are shy and rarely bite, but by carrying its own warning sign, the black widow has become one of the most well-known spiders in the world.

And More...

This Issue's Staff

Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White