Batesian mimicry examples and definition

Organisms exhibit a behavioral adaptation known as Batesian mimicry in order to survive and escape predation. Many examples of Batesian mimicry can be seen in animals and plants around us. In nature, mimicry is a behavioral adaptation whereby organisms evolve to resemble another organism or object. This adaptation is done in order to enable the organism to survive predation and live long.

There are many different species on earth and some feed on plants while others feed on other animals. As a result, organisms that are preyed on by other animals try to avoid being eaten. Mimicry tends to be an effective adaptation as these organisms use it to escape predation, obtain food or avoid detection. Since some of these organisms preyed on cannot outrun their predators, they trick them by mimicking other animals. They tend to mimic an animal that their predator doesn’t eat or is afraid of. Therefore, the evolutionary resemblance in mimicry may be between individuals in the same or different species.

In nature, various types of mimicry occur such as Batesian mimicry, Mullerian mimicry, aggressive mimicry, Emsleyan/Mertensian mimicry, Wasmannian mimicry, automimicry, Browerian mimicry, reproductive mimicry, Gilbertian mimicry, cryptic mimicry, and Vavilorian mimicry. However, in this article, we will be discussing Batesian mimicry.

What is Batesian mimicry?

Batesian mimicry is a type of mimicry (biological resemblance) whereby a harmless organism mimics a noxious, or dangerous organism that is equipped with a warning system such as conspicuous coloration. In Batesian mimicry, a harmless species imitates the warning coloration of a harmful one directed at a predator. This type of mimicry was discovered by an English naturalist, Henry Walter Bates, and was named after him. This was after his work on butterflies in the rainforests of Brazil.

In Batesian mimicry, a palatable species gains protection because predators mistake it for the noxious or dangerous organism and leave it alone. Hence, the prey adaptations in Batesian mimicry are like an anti-predator adaptation. This means Batesian mimicry involves the relationship where one species that are harmless have evolved aposematic coloration that mimics a noxious species. Aposematic coloration is a distinctive warning marking in the noxious species that sets it apart and makes it easy to identify. This noxious species definitely have some kind of harmful or damaging protection and is imitated by another species to avoid predation.

Batesian mimicry involves the deception of any of the senses. For instance, some moths imitate the ultrasound warning signals sent by unpalatable moths to bat predators. This constitutes auditory Batesian mimicry. A visual Batesian mimicry example is seen when a harmless king snake evolves and mimics the red, yellow, and black pattern of the venomous coral snake. Therefore, for Batesian mimicry to work, the organisms mimicked have to be noxious or dangerous to the predator that is being deceived.

The model, mimic and dupe

The agent of natural selection in Batesian mimicry is usually a predator. Hence, Batesian mimicry involves a model, a mimic, and a dupe. In Batesian mimicry, a harmless species imitates the warning coloration of a harmful one. The harmful one or imitated species that is protected by its foul taste, toxicity, or other defenses is called the model while the harmless species (imitating species) imitating the model is called the mimic. The mimics shares signals that are similar to the model but don’t have the features of the model that makes it unpalatable or unprofitable to the predator.

Batesian mimicry examples showing the model and the mimic
A pictorial example of Batesian mimicry showing the model and the mimic
Photo source: www.zo.utexas.edu

Furthermore, the predator that ends up being deceived is called the dupe, signal receiver, or operator. These predatory species mediate indirect interaction between the model and the mimic. Batesian mimicry adaptation is aimed at protection from predation and so one key feature of Batesian mimicry is that mimics are evolved to resemble a dangerous or distasteful organism. This behavioral adaptation is more like the case of a sheep in a wolf’s clothing. In Batesian mimicry, a palatable species gains an advantage by parasitizing the honest warning signal of the model. The mimic gains protection without having to go to the expense of arming itself.

The model and dupe, on the other hand, are disadvantaged. If the mimics as imposters appear in large numbers, a positive experience of the dupe with the mimic may result in the model being treated as harmless. Moreso, at higher frequency there is a stronger selective advantage for the predator to distinguish mimic from the model. Due to this, mimics are usually less in numbers than models, an instance of frequency-dependent selection.

A negative frequency dependent Batesian mimicry occurs when the mimics are low in proportion to the model. Hence, the mimics are less likely to be fished out by their predators. This phenomenon of negative frequency-dependent selection applies to most mimicry types. Some mimetic populations have even evolved multiple forms (polymorphism) that allow them to imitate several different models to gain greater protection. Nevertheless, in habitat, over time Batesian mimicry will result in numbers of potential predators avoiding a palatable species.

How does it work?

Batesian mimicry can be a successful strategy when the harm attained by the predator eating the model has to outweigh the benefit of consuming a mimic. A predator that has a bad experience with a model tends to totally avoid anything that resembles the model for a very long time. It doesn’t even resample anytime soon to check if the initial experience was a false negative. Hence, this nature of learning works in favor of the mimics. There is a Batesian mimicry effect on fitness because the mimics are avoided by predators, thus, increasing the fitness of the mimics.

However, if the mimics become more abundant than models, the probability of a young predator having the first experience with mimics increases. This is why Batesian mimicry adaptations are more likely to be stable in habitats where both the model and the mimic occur. Moreso, it is stable where the model is more abundant in population than the mimic. The advantages of Batesian mimicry include mimics gaining protection because predators leave them alone, mistaking them for the model. They enjoy this privilege without the expense of them arming themselves.

Basically, Batesian mimicry systems involve all of the following:

  1. The models being noxious or disagreeable
  2. Models being easily recognized
  3. Mimics having no defense mechanism
  4. The ability of predators to learn characteristics of their prey

Batesian mimicry examples

  1. Viceroy butterflies that are palatable to predators have evolved to have wings emblazoned with similar color schemes like the monarch butterfly that are unpalatable.
  2. The mimicry of coral snakes by scarlet king snakes is an example of Batesian mimicry in snakes.
  3. An example of batesian mimicry in insects is seen in the wasp beetle and hoverflies that mimic stinging wasps.
  4. The mimic octopus is one of the Batesian mimicry animals. This animal has the ability to intentionally alter its body shape and coloration in order to resemble dangerous lionfish or sea snakes.
  5. Some palatable moths produce ultrasonic click calls to imitate unpalatable tiger moths.
  6. The tiger leafwing and Eresia eunice are examples of Batesian mimicry butterflies that imitate unpalatable Heliconius butterflies such as H. ismenius (tiger-striped long wing butterfly).
  7. Limenitis arthemis is a Batesian mimicry butterfly example that mimics the poisonous pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) butterfly.
  8. The helmeted woodpecker (Dryocopus galeatus) is similar in appearance to two larger woodpeckers (Dryocopus lineatus and Campephilus robustus).
  9. An example of mimicry in plants is seen in the chameleon vine that evolves its leaf shape and color to resemble that of the host plant it is climbing. This mimicry makes the edible leaves of the chameleon vine appear to be the less desirable leaves of the host plant.

The agent of natural selection in Batesian mimicry is usually a predator. Thus, the benefits of Batesian mimicry in plants and animals can be seen in the following examples:

Viceroy butterfly mimicking Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies have been found to be in a Batesian mimicry relationship with viceroy butterflies. As larvae, monarch butterflies consume milkweed which makes them unpalatable to predators. Hence, they are hardly preyed on in their natural environment. Viceroy butterflies, on the other hand, are palatable to predators and have evolved to have wings emblazoned with similar color schemes to the monarch butterfly. Hence, reducing their predation rate.

Robberflies mimicking Bumblebee

The Batesian mimicry robber flies (M. bomboides) are common examples that exhibit this type of mimicry. These Batesian mimicry insects mimic the bumblebee and Bombus pensylvanicus that is noxious to predators like the toad. Toads tend to find the bumblebee noxious because of their sting and ignore robber flies as well.

Helmeted woodpecker mimicking two larger woodpeckers

The helmeted woodpecker mimicking two species of woodpeckers illustrate Batesian mimicry in animals. This is one of the Batesian mimicry examples where the helmeted woodpecker (Dryocopus galeatus) resembles other species of larger woodpecker namely, Dryocopus lineatus and Campephilus robustus. The helmeted woodpecker (Dryocopus galeatus) is a rare species and lives in the Atlantic forest of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. This animal is similar to the two larger woodpeckers as it has a red crest, black back, and is barred underside. Due to this mimicry, predation on the helmeted woodpecker from other animals is reduced.

Examples of batesian mimicry in plants

There are Batesian mimicry relationships in the plant kingdom too. A typical example is the chameleon vine that evolves its leaf color and shape to resemble that of the plant it is climbing. This mimicry makes the edible leaves of the chameleon vine appear to be the less desirable leaves of the host plant.

Another example of Batesian mimicry in plants is the thorn mimicry which is of two types. The first type of thorn mimicry seen in plants is the case of intra-organismic Batesian mimicry. This is seen in plants like the species of Agave (Agave applanta, Agave obscura, and Agave salmiana), W. filifera (Palmaceae), Aloe vera, and Liliaceae. On the face of their leaves, these plants develop thorn-like imprints or coloration. This is usually caused by the teeth along the margins of that leaf or another pressing sustained indentations into the flesh of the non-spiny parts.

The second type of thorn mimicry involves the pointed colorful organs of memetic plant species such as the leaves, buds, and fruit that mimic aposematic colorful thorns. They are not found anywhere other than the organism.

Female-limited Batesian mimicry of Papilio polytes

The female-limited Batesian mimicry of Papilio polytes is one of the most intriguing types of Batesian mimicry in butterflies. It involves the female-limited polymorphism in which females display both mimetic and non-mimetic forms. This female-limited Batesian mimicry polymorphism is controlled by a supergene locus in some Papilio butterflies.

The female-limited Batesian mimicry polymorphism in Papilio butterflies is a system used to investigate the mechanism of maintenance of genetic polymorphisms. What actually controls the female-limited mimicry polymorphism in Papilio polytes is an autosomal region that encompasses the sex-determinant gene doublesex.

Kingsnakes (or milksnakes) mimicking coral snakes

An example of Batesian mimicry in snakes is seen between the kingsnake or milksnake and coral snake. The milksnake is a species of kingsnake and they are usually harmless. The harmless kingsnake mimics the color patterns on the poisonous coral snake. Coral snakes are venomous and dangerous to humans and other animals. These snakes have colorful bands of red, black, and yellow where the yellow bands are next to the red bands. The model is the coral snake in this Batesian mimicry, while the milk snake is the mimic.

Kingsnakes too have bands of black, red, and yellow mimicking the coral snakes but have black bands on each side of the yellow bands. Kingsnake and coral snakes may not look alike but the color patterns confuse many predators. So, the predators stay clear of the kingsnake like they do with the coral snakes. Therefore, by mimicking coral snakes, the kingsnakes are able to deter predators.

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly mimicking the pipevine swallowtail butterfly

One of the common Batesian mimicry insect examples is seen between the spicebush swallowtail butterfly and the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. The pipevine swallowtail butterfly is distasteful and so birds avoid them. The spicebush swallowtail butterfly as adults exhibit mimicry by resembling the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. Hence they are also avoided by birds.

In addition, as caterpillars, the spicebush swallowtail butterfly is dark brown and streaked with white making them resemble bird droppings. Hence, birds are fooled by this resemblance and find them unpalatable. Moreso, in their fourth and last stage, these caterpillars become greenish-yellow with two large false eyespots. The color of the caterpillar together with the false eyespot that looks like eyes makes them resemble green snakes. Since birds naturally stay away from snakes, they avoid the caterpillars of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.

Gopher snakes mimicking rattlesnakes

A typical Batesian mimicry example is seen between the rattlesnakes and gopher snakes. The gopher snake is one of the Batesian mimicry snakes. This snake is harmless and mimics the poisonous rattlesnake. Imitating the rattlesnakes, the gopher snake usually shakes its tail to confuse its predator. Hence, the predator is fooled and mistakes the gopher snakes for rattlesnakes.

Meanwhile, the gopher snake is nothing like the poisonous rattlesnake. A rattlesnake will strike with an open mouth whereas a gopher snake strikes with a closed mouth. The gopher snake when threatened uses its blunt nose to strike the animal.

Mimic octopus mimicking other animals

The mimic octopus imitating other animals is an example of Batesian mimicry. It is one of the major Batesian mimicry animals known to mimic effectively. The mimic octopus as its name implies can imitate a wide range of animals such as venomous sole, sea snakes, lionfish, crabs, sea anemones, jellyfish, and mantis shrimp. This octopus species deter predators by mimicking other organisms.

In order to mimic the venomous sole fish, the mimic octopus flattens its body. More so, for this animal to resemble the fish-eating sea anemones, it uses jet propulsion to swim at high speed as it raises its arm above the head. Each of its arms is then bent in a zigzag shape to look like the sea anemones. Also, when imitating the jellyfish, the octopus swims to the surface and sinks slowly while it spreads its arms evenly around the body.

Tiger leafwing butterflies mimics the Ishmenius tiger butterfly

The tiger leafwing butterfly and the Ishmenius tiger butterfly are one of the Batesian mimicry insect examples. Birds usually avoid the Ishmenuis tiger butterfly because it is distasteful. The tiger leafwing butterfly, on the other hand, is preyed upon by birds because they are tasteful. These tiger leafwing butterflies have evolved to resemble the Ismenius tiger butterflies in order to escape predation. Hence, they are protected from birds as they ignore and mistake them for the distasteful butterflies.

Batesian mimicry vs Mullerian mimicry

Batesian mimicry is the most commonly known and studied mimicry complex. Most times, the word mimicry is treated synonymously with Batesian mimicry. However, among the other forms of mimicry, Mullerian mimicry is usually contrasted with Batesian mimicry. Mullerian mimicry is a form of mutually beneficial convergence between two or more harmful species. However, the distinction is not absolute because the mimic may have a degree of protection itself. Therefore, there is a difference between Batesian mimicry and Mullerian mimicry.

What is müllerian mimicry vs batesian mimicry?

Batesian mimicry is a type of mimicry (biological resemblance) whereby a harmless organism mimics a noxious, or dangerous organism that is equipped with a warning system such as conspicuous coloration. This means Batesian mimicry involves the relationship where one species that are harmless has evolved aposematic coloration that mimics a noxious species.

Mullerian mimicry, on the other hand, is a type of mimicry that occurs when two or more different species resemble and have similar aposematic signals or warnings. In this mimicry relationship, both the model and mimic share genuine anti-predation attributes. This mimicry is common to many groups of butterflies and was named after the German naturalist, Fritz Muller.

Difference between mullerian mimicry and batesian mimicry

Initially, the English naturalist, Henry Walter Bates, could not explain why both harmful organisms needed to mimic one another. It was Muller that provided the first explanation and mathematical model to this type of mimicry. It was said that it is more likely for individuals in both species to survive if a common predator confuses these two species. Hence, the Mullerian mimicry is distinct in several ways.

Batesian mimicry can be a successful strategy when the harm attained by the predator eating the model has to outweigh the benefit of consuming a mimic. Therefore, for Batesian mimicry to work in a habitat, the organisms mimicked (model) have to be more abundant than the mimic. Whereas, in Mullerian mimicry, the mimic has a frequency-dependent advantage that increases as the frequency of mimics increases. This is the opposite of Batesian mimicry.

A major difference between Batesian mimicry vs Mullerian mimicry is that both the mimic and the model benefit from the Mullerian mimicry but in Batesian mimicry, it’s the mimic that benefits. Hence, Mullerian mimicry can be classified as a mutualistic relationship.

Moreso, even though the signal receiver in Mullerian mimicry is deceived from being able to identify the species, it benefits from the ability to generalize the pattern on the model and the mimic to potential harmful encounters. Contrarily, in Batesian mimicry, the model and signal receiver are disadvantaged.

In Batesian mimicry relationships, the mimic gains an advantage by parasitizing the honest warning signal of the model. The mimic gains protection without having to go to the expense of arming itself. Whereas, in Mullerian mimicry, both the mimic and model benefit as they are avoided by the predators.

Distingushing the model from the mimic

Furthermore, in Batesian mimicry adaptation, it is clear that the harmful one or imitated species that is protected by its foul taste, toxicity, or other defenses is called the model while the harmless species (imitating species) imitating the model is called the mimic.

In Mullerian mimicry, distinguishing the mimic from the model is unclear unlike in Batesian mimicry. The rear species can be called the mimic in Mullerian mimicry when one organism is scarce and the other abundant. However, when both species are abundant in similar numbers, it is more practical to refer to each organism as a co-mimic instead of distinguishing them as the model and mimic, since their warning signals seem to go together.

A video explaining the difference between Batesian mimicry vs Mullerian mimicry

FAQ

What is an example of Batesian mimicry?

An example of animals that use Batesian mimicry is the milksnake. The milk snake is a species of kingsnake and they are harmless. This harmless milk snake mimics the color patterns of the poisonous coral snake that are venomous and dangerous to humans and other animals.

Milksnake and coral snakes may not look alike but the color patterns confuse many predators. So, the predators stay clear of the milksnake like they do with the coral snakes. Therefore, by mimicking coral snakes, the milk snakes are able to deter predators.

What is Batesian mimicry in biology?

In biology, Batesian mimicry can be defined as a type of behavior adaptation whereby a harmless organism mimics a noxious, or dangerous organism that is equipped with a warning system such as conspicuous coloration. Batesian mimicry is one of the common types of mimicry seen in nature.

Do the model and the mimic need to be in the same location for Batesian mimicry?

Yes, the model and mimic need to be in the same location for Batesian mimicry. This type of mimicry is a highly specialized interaction between the predator, the mimic, and the model. By resembling the model which is a dangerous or unpalatable species, the mimic gains protection from predation. This means that since the mimic is dependent on the honest signal of the model, it should not occur in locations without its model.

Is Batesian mimicry an example of aposematism?

Batesian mimicry is not necessarily an example of aposematism though it involves the relationship where one species that are harmless has evolved aposematic coloration that mimics a noxious species. Aposematic coloration is a distinctive warning marking in the noxious species that sets it apart and makes it easy to identify.

Does monarch butterfly use Batesian mimicry?

No, they don’t use Batesian mimicry. However, these butterflies have been found to be in a Batesian mimicry relationship with viceroy butterflies. As larvae, monarch butterflies consume milkweed which makes them unpalatable. Hence, they are hardly preyed on in their natural environment. Viceroy butterflies that are palatable to predators have evolved to have wings emblazoned with similar color schemes like the monarch butterfly, hence, reducing their predation rate.

What is the difference between Batesian mimicry and Mullerian mimicry?

The difference between Mullerian mimicry vs Batesian mimicry is quite distinct. In Batesian mimicry, a harmless organism mimics a noxious, or dangerous organism that is equipped with a warning system such as conspicuous coloration. Whereas, in Mullerian mimicry, two or more different species resemble and have similar aposematic signals or warnings. This means both the model and mimic share genuine anti-predation attributes.

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