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On Six Legs by Tom Turpin - Insect Peek-A-Boo

Remember that old game of peek-a-boo? It's a game played between an adult and a baby. It works this way. The adult covers up an object and then uncovers it in the presence of the little child and says "peek-a-boo!" Sometimes the object is an adult's face covered with his or her hands.

According to developmental psychologists, peek-a-boo plays an important role in the psychological development of children. The child playing the game is learning an important concept. It is object permanence – the idea that things exist even when they cannot be seen.

It is probably safe to say that most of us don't think about highfalutin psychological concepts when we play peek-a-boo with kids. We are just playing the game to keep the little rug rats occupied.

Insects also play a version of the peek-a-boo game. But for insects, peek-a-boo is not a matter of psychological development. It is a matter of life or death.

One of the risks of being an insect is that the world is full of insect-eating animals. Such animals survive by capturing insects to fulfill their nutritional needs. That is good for the insect-eater but is a real downer for the insect that becomes the meal.

So insects, as a matter of survival, have developed ways to avoid becoming meals for other animals. They fly, they hide and they taste bad. And some insect species employ what scientists call protective coloration. That means their color patterns allow them to send a message to a predator. Messages such as, "I can hurt you because you think I am a bee." Or, "I am not something you want to eat because I look like bird manure." Or "My bright color means I taste bad."