Amazonian bird may act the part of its hairy caterpillar disguise | Science News

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Amazonian bird may act the part of its hairy caterpillar disguise

Rare images show how baby cinereous mourner deceives potential predators

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7:00am, January 13, 2015
baby cinereous mourner

DELICIOUS BIRD OR POISONOUS CATERPILLAR? A rare look at a baby cinereous mourner suggests the birds' nestlings imitate toxic hairy caterpillars to discourage predators.

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The orange chick of an Amazonian bird looks a lot like a toxic caterpillar. Now a rare peek into a nest suggests the chick may act the part, too.

Adults of the bird called the cinereous mourner (Laniocera hypopyrra) are gray with a few brownish spots on the shoulders. “Boring,” acknowledges Gustavo Londoño of Universidad Icesi in Cali, Colombia. Yet the chicks, which are frail and reside in leafy nests that look like open cups, boast vivid, attention-grabbing color. A recent survey suggests that some 80 percent of cup nests in the region get attacked, Londoño says.

The chicks’ appearance, however, may discourage predators. A 1982 paper proposed that fluff disguises chicks as less desirable moss-covered fruits. And in 2012, another team proposed that chicks might resemble toxic orange caterpillars from the region — at least as far as the researchers could tell by examining two museum

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