Deception and trickery are rife in natural world, scientist says in new book

February 19, 2016
Front cover of the book. Credit: Dr Martin Stevens

A University of Exeter academic is the author of a new book that describes how animals and plants regularly use ingenuity and cunning to exploit and mislead one another in order to survive and reproduce.

In Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead, which launches next week, Dr Martin Stevens explains the science behind how species mimic other objects or organisms in the environment for protection, trick others into rearing their young, lure prey to their death, and deceive potential mates for reproduction.

The fully illustrated book, the first on the subject of trickery and deception in nature for a general audience, explains how deception is common in the natural world and how being economical with the truth can mean the difference between life and death.

Dr Stevens, an Associate Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, explains how the behaviours have evolved and the varied ways that early naturalists and modern day science has sought to understand the evolution and basis of deception in nature.

The idea for the book was inspired by his own fascination for the subject as well as his research interests, which focus specifically on animal coloration and vision and include many studies on camouflage, mimicry, and cuckoos.

"The main reason, ultimately, that I wanted to write the book is that I think it's a wonderful and exciting subject, rich in natural history, exploration, and scientific work. It's amazing that the has been studied for centuries by explorers and natural historians and yet we are still discovering remarkable cases of how animals, plants, and even fungi can deceive one another," said Dr Stevens.

"Many cases of deception have been known for a long time, including the sophisticated resemblance some jumping spiders have to ants (for protection), and the way that common cuckoos trick foster parents into raising the cuckoo's young. Yet some of the most remarkable examples of cheating in nature have only just been discovered, including an Amazonian bird whose chicks mimic a bright orange toxic caterpillar, and a fungus that glows green at night to lure insects used in reproduction."

Dr Stevens is due to talk about his book and the subject of at a number of events across the country including the Hay Festival and the Royal Institution.

The release of Cheats and Deceits by Oxford University Press follows the publication of a textbook by the same author called Sensory Ecology, Behaviour, and Evolution from the same publishers in 2013.

Explore further: Australia a hot-spot for flora and fauna deception

Related Stories

Australia a hot-spot for flora and fauna deception

December 17, 2013

( —Researchers at Macquarie University and Auckland University have discovered that biological deception appears to be rampant in Australia, particularly as demonstrated by some of the better-known tricksters, ...

Recommended for you

Study shows how giraffe assassin bugs outwit spider prey

October 26, 2016

(—A biologist at Macquarie University in Australia has discovered the secret behind the giraffe assassin's ability to catch and kill spiders in their webs. In his paper published on the open access site Royal Society ...

New analysis of big data sheds light on cell functions

October 26, 2016

Researchers have developed a new way of obtaining useful information from big data in biology to better understand—and predict—what goes on inside a cell. Using genome-scale models, researchers were able to integrate ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.