The animal kingdom dances, paints and misleads others with various forms of colorfully frightening eyespots. These lurk at the back of animal’s heads, tails, and backs and are washed in deceit – an intelligent evolutionary adaptation and one of the most creative forms of defense! Often tricking, shocking and scaring the most ferocious predators, those species that know how to use these smartly are certainly in chance of out-doing much bigger and deadly species.


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Animals that sit lower in the food chain, especially producers and first consumers provide a lot of energy transfer across to bigger, dependant species. Providing such input results in many threats and dangers against them. Flying, leaping, camouflaged, silent, jaw snapping clawed and teeth bearing predators are all on the hunt for prey species for survivals.

Defence is the key to survival, whether it is an anatomy adaptation, trick or change in behaviour it needs to be crafted to perfection in order to deter or use against predators. Eyespots are just one prime example of one of the most eccentric, yet intriguing methods of defence used. Here are five species found in differing locations, families and anatomies, all daring to take on the trickery of eye spots and passing on the method around the globe:

5. Indian Cobra

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A highly venomous snake, the Indian Cobra is a much feared predator. With the ability to spit venom and puncture lungs with its sharp fangs you might wonder why the need for eyespots?  Just like any animal, the Indian Cobra is open to attack from behind at any time from those bigger and badder than himself. So when feeling threatened these well-dressed eye spots are reared up into the air, assisted with violent hissing and spitting. The mongoose – the Indian Cobras biggest threat, is often startled by this warning and runs away, leaving their usual spots of attack (at the back of the victim’s necks) untouched.

4. Moth Caterpillar


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Numerous species of birds and mammals favour caterpillars for lunch. They are juicy, an easy catch and packed with nutrition making them a huge target in the food chain. But this caterpillar is more frightening than juicy…

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Just before a bird attempts to seize the caterpillar, unexpectedly it rears up from the foliage and transforms itself into a terrorizing monster! With various bright threatening markings, eyespots and false disturbing heads this defence employed by the caterpillar is very effective at deterring birds and other carnivorous predators away. Why? Because cleverly these fake eyespots appear to belong to a head of a much bigger and competitive predator.

3. Butterfly Fish

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When you are a large species of fish attempting to catch a smaller one to fill up your stomach, many fish appear to be easily caught at any angle. To be sure, the one guaranteed method to swallow a fish whole is head first – preventing any fins, tails and spines puncturing and getting stuck in the throat. Fish, naturally being forward swimmers can only escape by moving forwards and of course all predatory fish are aware of this. With limited chances of escaping these larger fish, this pressure has directed evolutionary techniques in avoiding predators – with the Butterfly Fish being the leading example.

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Butterfly Fish have the capability to blur the distinction between their heads and tails –resulting in a remarkable marine example of evolving a pair of false eyes. These sit clearly and brightly at the tail end of their bodies, with their real eyes being disguised by a black band that runs across the face. This is a devious trick, preventing predators that hunt from behind from attacking. Predators are left startled whilst the agile, beautiful Butterfly fish swims off in the wrong direction and becomes an unavoidable catch.

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A similar strategy can be seen in South America’s Oscar’s Cichlid – a victim of predatory piranhas. The clearly defined eye marking on the stem of its tail provides a better chance of escaping when due an attack. The tail is the best area for a fish to flash its decoy eyes but can vary across species. False eyes can be seen splashed across fins, heads and various other parts of the body. This type of defence is known as automimicry or intraspecific mimicry and is an astonishing decoy underwater.

2. Killer Whale

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The eyespots of the Killer Whale are a reserved transition of defence. Instead of defending against killer predators, these big, “cute” eyespots are actually used for protection against injuries and damage caused from panicking prey species. Many attempts of escaping from predators involve aiming/pecking and sufficient damaging the predator’s valuable spots, biding time to escape. These large fake eyes deter anxious prey species from their real eyes lower down in the head, keeping their predatory vision protected.

1. Emperor Moths

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Moths are the most discovered and well credited masters of producing astonishing replicas of eyes across their delicate wings. The perfection of these eyes is rather remarkable and appears daunting when seen by species out in the wild. Existing in both beautiful and scary variations, these replicas of eyespots vary from simple dark sports to either emphasised larger eyes or perfectly replicated spots. A striking example can be seen in the Emperor Moth.

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The eyes that play bluff and deceive enemies are responsible for almost all protection of the moth. The unusual patterns divert predators from the most vulnerable parts of the body, avoiding predation and damage. The imitated eyes also serve as warnings to birds from above, instantly making them recoil at the sight of large glaring eyes!

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I welcome and advertise another clever, perfectly tailored method across the animal kingdom, showing some kick ass defences against some of the world’s most ultimate predators. It just leaves the question bobbing wildly in my head, what’s going to be the counter actions of evolving against such well crafted prey species? Are predators only going to get fiercer and more tactile as their prey becomes harder to defeat and consume? The answer lies in the nest of genes that are responsible for mutating and changing to these environmental pressures. We have to sit patiently and wait for the extraordinary visual advances of both predators and prey that continuously recycle to out do one another.

  • Helen

    Wow Emma I am impressed with how far you have got. You write about some very interesting and bizarre topics that certainly gain my interest. Keep up with up and i’ll keep on checking for updates!

  • JP

    Just reading this one again and thought ‘wow what a kick ass conclusion!!’ written brilliantly!