Thursday, February 4, 2016

Martin Stevens on Cheats and Deceits in Nature

Book jacket for Cheats and Deceits (2016)
A wonderful new book by zoologist Martin Stevens is out today in the UK, with US release to follow. Titled Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead (great title!), it is a timely follow-up to his other two recent volumes: Animal Camouflage: Mechanism and Function (2011) and Sensory Ecology, Behavior and Evolution (2013), all from Oxford University Press. Here is the jacket description from the latest, followed by an author’s bio from—

In nature, trickery and deception are widespread. Animals and plants mimic other objects or species in the environment for protection, trick other species into rearing their young, lure prey to their death, and deceive potential mates for reproduction. Cuckoos lay eggs carefully matched to their host's own clutch. Harmless butterflies mimic the wing patterning of a poisonous butterfly to avoid being eaten. The deep-sea angler fish hangs a glowing, fleshy lure in front of its mouth to draw the attention of potential prey, while some male fish alter their appearance to look like females in order to sneak past rivals in mating. Some orchids develop the smell of female insects in order to attract pollinators, while carnivorous plants lure insects to their death with colorful displays.

In Cheats and Deceits, Martin Stevens describes the remarkable range of such adaptations in nature, and considers how they have evolved and increasingly been perfected as part of an arms race between predator and prey or host and parasite. He explores both classic and recent research of naturalists and biologists, showing how scientists find ways of testing the impact of particular behaviors and colorings on the animals it is meant to fool. Drawing on a wide range of examples, Stevens considers what deception tells us about the process of evolution and adaptation.


Martin Stevens is Associate Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter, UK. His research work and teaching focuses on animal behavior and their sensory systems and ecology. Most of his work aims to understand the evolution and function of animal coloration, including camouflage, mimicry, and warning signals, from the perspective of animal vision. His work has included studies on a wide range of animals, including fish, reptiles, birds, insects, crabs, and primates. Martin's work has frequently covered topics related to deception, including mimicry by brood parasites ("cuckoos") and anti-predator coloration, including camouflage, eyespots, and mimicry. He has published over 80 scientific manuscripts, two textbooks, and a general audience book on deception in nature. Martin's research is frequently covered in the international media and he has taken part in a wide range of TV, radio, and magazine productions and given public lectures around the world.