The practice of mimicry is pretty popular in nature. Whether its a harmless king snake posing as a venomous coral snake or a cuckoo bee pretending to be its much more dangerous cousin the yellow jacket, animals often use mimicry as one of their tools for protection.
Before now, scientists had only found a handful of plant species that exhibited mimicry (which is known as crypsis when referring to plants), and all of these species mimicked only one other type of plant.
The recently-discovered Boquila trifoliolata tree vine is in a class of its own when it comes to crypsis, however. The vine, native to Chile and Argentina, exhibits a quality known as mimetic polymorphism which allows it to change its appearance in a number of different ways, depending on its environment. Before the discovery of the vine, butterflies were the only known species to exhibit this quality.
As the B. trifoliolata vine climbs a tree and spreads to its branches, the vine is able to change the size, shape, color, orientation and even the vein patterns of its leaves to match the foliage of the branch it’s growing on.
If it happens to cross over to a nearby tree, it adapts to match the leaves of the new tree as well, even if they’re many times larger and shaped differently than the leaves of the first tree.
This mind-bowing ability provides the vine with protection by camouflaging it from plant-eating bugs like weevils and leaf beetles.
Scientists still don’t know how the vine figures out what its host tree looks like to be able to mimic it, but they hypothesize that it could be reading subtle cues from the odors or chemical secretions of the host tree.
Read more from Science Mag here.