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No. 97: Jan-Feb 1995

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Fruit Dupe

Hakea trifurcata is a forlorn-looking shrub growing on rocky terrain in Western Australia, where it reaches a height of 2 meters. The fruits of this plant are enjoyed by the white-tailed black cockatoo -- if it can identify them ! Hakea trifurcata, you see, grows fruit that looks like its leaves, and this is very frustrating to the white-tailed black cockatoo:

"This shrub according to plant ecologist Byron Lamont of Curtin University of Technology in Perth, exhibits the first known case of self-mimicry in a plant: to avoid losing valuable seeds to predators, it disguises some of its leaves as fruits. Young plants produce only the long, needle-shaped leaves. But mature five-year-old shrubs also grow broad leaves that cluster around the slightly smaller, almost identical-looking green seed-filled fruits."

When offered branches stripped of real leaves and bearing just fruits, the cockatoos quickly demolished them. Normal branches bearing both leaves and fruit were attacked at first -- especially the larger leaves. But when the cockatoos found themselves duped a large proportion of the time, they gave up in obvious frustration.

(Anonymous; "Fruit Dupes," Discover, 15:16, August 1994.)

Comment. An even more amazing case of plant mimicry occurs among Passiflora species, which craft precise copies of the eggs of a butterfly, whose larvae decimate these plants. The butterflies see the fake eggs and go look for places to lay their eggs where there is less competition. (See SF#16)

From Science Frontiers #97, JAN-FEB 1995. 1995-2000 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