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No. 16: Summer 1981

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Plants Manufacture Fake Insect Eggs

Plants are usually considered rather passive to environmental forces, but careful observation show that they fight back against predators in subtle ways. Williams and Gilbert, for example, have found that a number of Passiflora species, which are heavily defoliated by the larvae of Heliconius butterflies, have developed tiny structures that closely resemble in size, shape, and color the eggs of these butterflies. Heliconius butterflies, when searching for likely plants on which to lay eggs, tend to avoid plants that already have eggs on them. The plants' fake eggs, then, help protect the plant from predation.

(Williams, Kathy S., and Gilbert, Lawrence E.; "Insects as Selective Agents on Plant Vegetative Morphology....."; Science, 212:467, 1981.)

Comment. We have heard over and over again about Nature's "marvelous adaptations," but it is still difficult to imagine chance-driven evolution of fake eggs of just the right size, shape, and color. How many shapes and colors were tried before the plants got it right?

From Science Frontiers #16, Summer 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987