Deception is common in nature, with animals and plants masquerading as different species in order to mislead others. While warning colours are easily recognised, warning scents are far harder to measure, but despite this there are some tantalising indications that deception may be just as frequent in the olfactory realm. Dave Wilkinson examines the history of this fascinating area of research and proposes some avenues which may be worthy of further exploration.
There can be few naturalists who have never been wrong-footed by black-and-yellow-striped flies mimicking wasps and bees. ‘No field naturalist forgets the pleasure that comes from being deceived by mimicry, even after years of experience,’ was Carpenter & Ford’s conclusion in their 1933 book on the topic.