golden tortoise beetle

okay. let’s lay it down. the golden tortoise beetle is ten kinds of cute*, and on the fringes of the animal kingdom alongside cuttlefish and other cephalopods because it has the rare attribute of being able to change the colour and reflectivity of its outer shell. cephalopods change the colour of their skin using cells called chromatophores, but the tortoise beetle has a different method.

the beetle shells have several tiers inside, filled with grooves. the grooves are filled with liquid red pigment. when startled by predators or during mating, the beetle can drain the amount of pigment, thus allowing the wide range of colouration they display. the shells can be completely golden and reflective, so transparent the red under-shell is visible, or anything in-between.

when their shells are fully transparent, the golden tortoise beetle looks strikingly similar to a ladybug and this mimicry is likely and evolved defense. lab tests have shown that birds like the taste of the golden tortoise, but do not like eating ladybugs, when presented side by side, birds are unable to tell the difference between the insects.

these beetles are found over a wide geographic range; there are asian species, living in india and southeast asia, and north american species that live in places as far-flung as indiana and venezuela. they love eating morning glory leaves and this is where they are commonly found in n. america.

this source is full of beautiful photos and a cute ladybug gif. click the photo to see them all!

*except in their larval stage, in which they are all spiky and carry around their discarded skin and fecal matter on spines extending from the posterior end of the body, a structure called the anal fork. i wish i was kidding. this is the opposite of cute.

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