What is Mimicry? Examples and types of mimicry in animals

Contents

What is Mimicry?

There is a behavioral adaptation known as mimicry in animals. On planet earth, there are many different species. Some are herbivores and feed on plants while some are carnivores and consume other animals. Animals that are preyed on by other animals try to avoid being eaten. Some of them are fast enough to outrun their predators. Whereas, some animals hide using camouflage to avoid being seen by their predators. However, some can’t run or hide and try to trick their predators by mimicking other animals. They mimic the animals that their predators fear or don’t eat.

Definition

Mimicry can be defined as a behavioral adaptation whereby an organism evolves to resemble or look like another organism or object; they usually do this to help them live longer and survive predation. In mimicry, the evolutionary resemblance may be between individuals in the same species or different species. As an effective adaptation in animals and plants, it is used to escape predation, detection, or to obtain food. This behavioral adaptation is very useful as many organisms use it for survival.

The foureye butterfly fish exhibit mimicry
The four-eye butterflyfish, for instance, has large eyespots near its tail. The false eyes trick predators as they believe the fish will flee with their tail first, meanwhile, the fish swim away in the opposite direction

When talking about mimicry in animals, there are basic terminologies used to identify the organisms involved. Mimicry happens in various ways and most times it involves 3 organisms. These three species involved are termed the model, mimic, and the dupe (signal receiver).

The organism that is referred to as the model is the animal that another organism mimics or resembles. Usually, the model species is either distasteful or dangerous to predators.

The second organism is the mimic. This is the organism that resembles, copies, or mimics the model species.

Then, the third organism is the dupe, which is actually the organism that is fooled by mistaking the mimic for the model.

Examples of Mimicry in Animals

Let’s take the Ismenius tiger butterfly for example. These butterflies are distasteful and as a result, are avoided by birds. The tiger leafwing butterfly on the other hand seems to be tasteful to birds. Hence, they are preyed on by birds. Interestingly, these tiger leafwing butterflies to escape predators have evolved to resemble the Ismenius tiger butterflies. This protects them from birds as these birds mistake them for the distasteful butterflies. Therefore, these birds ignore the tiger leafwing butterflies entirely. In this case, the model organism is the Ismenius tiger butterfly, while the tiger leafwing butterfly is the mimic. Then, the birds that normally prey on the tiger leafwing butterfly are the dupes.

Mimesis (an animal mimicking an inanimate object)

In the illustration above, it is seen that there is a mimicry relationship between three different species. However, mimicry doesn’t only involve an animal mimicking another living organism, but an animal could mimic an inanimate object as well; this is termed Mimesis. Non-living or inanimate things could be models too. When the model is inanimate, the terms mimesis and masquerade are sometimes used. For instance, animals such as planthoppers, geometer moth caterpillars, flower mantises, and comma resemble inanimate objects such as bark, flowers, twig, leaves, or bird droppings.

Also, several animals bear eyespots. These eyespots are hypothesized to look like the eyes of larger animals. They may not actually resemble any specific organism’s eyes, and it is also uncertain if the animals respond to the eyespots as eyes. However, the model is often another species with the exception of automimicry and inter-sexual mimicry.  In automimicry, individuals of the species mimic other individuals of the same species or even mimic other parts of their own bodies. Similarly, in inter-sexual mimicry, individuals of one sex mimic individuals of the other sex.

There are different types of mimicry. It occurs in many different forms based on the mimic’s needs. Organisms use several different mimicry types for protection. The tiger leafwing butterflies discussed earlier on, for instance, exhibit a type of mimicry called Batesian mimicry. Other types of mimicry include Mullerian, Aggressive, Mertensian, Wasmannian, etc.

Mimicry happens to be a very effective and common survival mechanism used in nature. Virtually every habitat and ecosystem on planet earth houses several mimics. Some look exactly like the model they mimic, whereas others bear only a slight resemblance. Most animals make use of mimicry to escape predators with poor eyesight.

Some animals go as far as acting like other animals to fool their predators. For instance, an octopus species called the mimic octopus usually holds its body in a way that resembles an entirely different animal. Sometimes, they mimic a dangerous sting ray by flattening their body, and other times they move their arms in a manner that makes them resemble a deadly sea snake. However, it is important to note that mimicry is not only about imitating and mimicking appearances. Some animals can mimic sounds that other animals make. For example, mockingbirds are known to mimic the calls of other birds.

Definition of mimicry in biology

In evolutionary biology, mimicry can be defined as a phenomenon by which there is a superficial resemblance of two or more organisms that may not be closely related taxonomically. This resemblance is basically for advantageous purposes such as protection from predation. In this phenomenon, the organism deceives the other organism of natural selection. The organism of selection directly interacts with similar organisms and is deceived by their similarity. Depending on the type of mimicry encountered, it may be a predator, a symbiont, or the host of a parasite that is being deceived.

Therefore, the basic function of mimicry is to protect an animal or plant from predators. Thus, it is an anti-predator adaptation. However, mimicry can evolve if a receiver like a predator perceives the similarity between a model and a mimic. As a result, the predator changes its behavior in a way that gives a selective advantage to the mimic. In mimicry, the resemblances that evolve can be chemical, visual, tactile, acoustic, electric, or combinations of these sensory modalities.

Mimicry can be seen as a form of mutualism when it may be to the advantage of both organisms that share a resemblance. Also, it can be parasitic or competitive when the mimicry is to the detriment of one organism. The evolutionary convergence between these organisms is driven by the selective action of a  dupe.

For instance, birds use sight to avoid noxious insects and identify palatable insects and butterflies. However, the palatable insects over time may evolve to resemble the noxious insects that birds avoid. Hence, these palatable insects become mimics and the noxious ones are models. Sometimes, in the case of mutualism, the mimics and models are referred to as co-mimics.

Types of Mimicry

  • Batesian mimicry
  • Mullerian mimicry
  • Aggressive mimicry
  • Emsleyan or Mertensian mimicry
  • Wasmannian mimicry
  • Vavilovian mimicry
  • Automimicry
  • Browerian mimicry
  • Reproductive mimicry
  • Gilbertian mimicry
  • Cryptic mimicry

There are several types of mimicry. Classifying these various mimicry types is usually dependent on function with respect to the mimic. However, some cases of mimicry may belong to more than one type.

Batesian mimicry

This type of mimicry occurs when an animal mimics and resembles a dangerous or distasteful organism in order to protect itself from predation. The mimics, in Batesian mimicry shares signals similar to the model. However, the mimic doesn’t possess the attribute of the model that makes it unprofitable or unpalatable to the predator. This is more like a case of a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

The Batesian mimicry was named after an English naturalist, Henry Walter Bates. When the mimics are in low proportion to the model, they are less likely to be fished out by their predators. Thus, this phenomenon is called negative frequency-dependent selection. The phenomenon applies to most forms of mimicry. For Batesian mimicry to be sustained, the harm attained by the predator eating a model has to outweigh the benefit of consuming a mimic.

A predator that happens to have a bad first experience with a model tends to totally avoid anything that looks like the model for a very long time. In addition, the predator does not re-sample anytime soon to even check if the initial experience was a false negative. Thus, the nature of learning works in favor of the mimics.  However, the likelihood of a young predator having the first experience with mimics increases if the mimics become more abundant than models. Therefore, the Batesian mimicry systems are most likely to be stable in habitats where both the model and the mimic occur. Also, it is stable where the model is more abundant than the mimic.

Batesian mimicry examples

  • Several insects such as hoverflies and the wasp beetle exhibit Batesian mimicry as they mimic stinging wasps.
  • Batesian mimics such as Consul fabius and Eresia eunice mimic unpalatable Heliconius butterflies such as H. ismenius.
  • The species, Limenitis arthemis mimics the poisonous pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor).
  • Many palatable moths imitate unpalatable tiger moths by producing ultrasonic click calls.
  • The mimic octopus has the ability to intentionally alter its coloration and body shape in order to resemble dangerous sea snakes or lionfish.
  • Similar in appearance to two larger woodpeckers in the Amazon is the helmeted woodpecker (Dryocopus galeatus).
  • Dryocopus lineatus and Campephilus robustus are the two larger woodpeckers. The helmeted woodpecker is a rare species that lives in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. It has a similar red crest, black back, and barred underside to the two larger woodpeckers. Thus, this mimicry reduces attacks on the helmeted woodpecker from other animals.
  • In the plant kingdom, Batesian mimicry also occurs as the chameleon vine evolves its leaf shape and color to resemble that of the plant it is climbing. This mimicry makes the edible leaves of the plant appear to be the less desirable leaves of its host.

Mullerian mimicry

This type of mimicry occurs when two or more different species look alike and have a similar warning or aposematic signals. The organisms both share genuine anti-predation attributes. This mimicry was named after the German naturalist, Fritz Muller and is common to many groups of butterflies. The organisms benefits as they are both avoided by the predators. For instance, monarch and viceroy butterflies usually resemble each other. So, birds avoid them both as they are both distasteful to birds.

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

First of all, the mimic and the model benefit from this interaction, and this mimicry could be classified as a mutualistic relationship. Also, the dupe or signal receiver benefits even though it is deceived from being able to identify the species. It benefits from the ability to generalize the pattern on the mimic and model to potential harmful encounters.

Secondly, distinguishing the mimic from the model is unclear in Mullerian mimicry unlike in Batesian mimicry. In Mullerian mimicry, the rear species can be referred to as the mimic when one organism is scarce and the other abundant. However, when both organisms are abundant in similar numbers, it is more logical to refer to each organism as a co-mimic rather than distinguishing them as the model and mimic, since their warning signals seem to converge.

Mullerian mimicry examples

  • The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is an example of a Mullerian complex with the viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus). They share display behavior and coloration patterns. However, the subspecies of viceroy has somewhat different coloration, that each closely matches the local Danaus species. In Florida, for instance, the pairing is of the queen butterfly and viceroy. Whereas, the viceroy in Mexico resembles the soldier butterfly. Hence, the viceroy butterfly is involved in 3 different Mollerian pairs. For long, this example was believed to be Batesian as the viceroy mimics the monarch, but the viceroy butterfly is actually more unpalatable than the Queen butterfly.
  • The morpho butterflies under the genus Morpho are palatable, although some species like Morpho amathonte are strong fliers. birds and species that specialize in catching butterflies find it hard to catch these strong fliers. Most Morpho species share a conspicuous blue coloration that may be Mullerian or pursuit aposematism. The Morpho butterflies are sexually dimorphic. Hence, the males’ iridescent coloration may also relate to sexual selection.
  • In the eastern United States, there are at least 7 species of millipedes in the genera Apheloria and Brachoria that form a Mullerian mimicry ring. This mimicry involves where unrelated polymorphic species converge on similar color patterns where their range overlaps.

Aggressive mimicry

This type of mimicry occurs when a predator or parasite mimics the organism it is trying to capture or infect. In some cases, it is beneficial to a predator or parasite to resemble its prey or host, respectively. The phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”  is an apt description of aggressive mimicry. This mimicry does not involve warning mechanisms.

Usually, the mimic adopts some of the recognition marks of its model. This is to secure an advantage over the model itself or over a third organism that interacts with the model. However, the mimic may imitate the model only during a single phase of the life cycle. An example is the case of parasitic cuckoos. The eggs of the parasitic cuckoos resemble those of their hosts.

Moreso, the model can be prey to the mimic’s victim. An example is the case of anglerfishes. These fishes have rodlike spines tipped with a fleshy bait. This lures other fishes within reach. Also, some fireflies, produce lights that resemble the lights of other species of firefly. Thus, when the mimic is approached by an unsuspecting male species for mating purposes, the mimic quickly grabs and eats the dupe.

Predators

Aggressive mimicry is seen in parasites or predators that share some of the characteristics of a harmless species. Thereby, helping them to be able to avoid detection by their prey or host. In this mimicry, the mimic may choose to resemble its prey or host. Also, it can resemble another organism that is either beneficial or neutral to the dupe. In this mimicry type, the model might be affected positively, negatively, or not at all.

The mimic may have a specific significance for duped prey. An example of such a case is spiders. Aggressive mimicry is quite common amongst spiders for luring prey and disguising stealthily approaching predators. In well-lit areas, the golden orb weaver, for instance, spins a conspicuous golden-colored web. Experiments illustrate that when the yellow pigment is not present, bees are able to associate the webs with danger. Also, other colors were learned and avoided. However, bees seemed least able to effectively identify yellow-pigmented webs with danger. This is probably because yellow happens to be the color of many nectar-bearing flowers. Thus,  avoiding the yellow color is not worthwhile for bees.

Moreso, there is another form of mimicry that is based on pattern and not color. Species like the silver Argiope (Argiope argentata) use eminent patterns such as zig zags in the middle of their webs. These patterns may mimic the pattern (nectar guides) seen in various flowers as they may reflect ultraviolet light. Every day, spiders change their web. This can be explained and related to why bees have the ability to remember web patterns. Hence, the spider has to spin a new pattern frequently since bees can associate a certain pattern with a spatial location. So, the spider may suffer diminishing prey capture if it doesn’t spin a new pattern regularly.

In some cases, males are lured towards what appears to be a sexually receptive female. This is another case of mimicry in predation. In this situation, the dupe is the same species as the model. James E. Lloyd in the early 1960s investigated female fireflies of the genus Photuris. This study revealed that these female fireflies emit the same light signals that females of the genus Photinus use as a mating signal. Further research showed that male fireflies from many different genera are attracted to these female fireflies of the genus Photuris. However, instead of mating. the males are eventually captured and eaten. Therefore, this mimicry might have evolved from non-mating signals that have become modified for predation.

Similarly, the male cicadas of the tribe Cicadettini are attracted to the listrosceline katydid of inland Australia. The katydid attracts the males. This is achievable by mimicking the species-specific reply clicks of sexually receptive female cicadas. Therefore, this case of acoustic aggressive mimicry is similar to the Photuris firefly case. It is similar in that the predator’s mimicry is remarkably versatile. Experiments have shown that C. leucoviridis has the ability to attract males of many cicada species, as well as cicadettine cicadas from other continents, even though cicada mating signals are species-specific. Also, through mimicry, some carnivorous plants can be able to increase their rate of capture.

Another case is the cleaner fish and its mimic. In this case, the model is highly disadvantaged by the mimic being around. Cleaner fish have a mutualistic relationship with other fishes that allow them to eat their parasites and dead skin. Some even let the cleaner fish enter inside their body in order to hunt these parasites. However, the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse which is one of the species of the cleaner fish is a model to a mimetic species, the saber-toothed blenny. The Bluestreak wrasse inhabits coral reefs in the pacific oceans and Indian. Whereas, its mimic, the sabretoothed blenny resides in the Indian ocean.

This mimic looks like the wrasse both in size and coloration and even mimics the cleaner wrasse’s dance. It then fools its prey by imitating the cleaner wrasse that cleanses the body of other fishes. Once, these fishes let their guard down, the sabretoothed blenny bites them and rips off their fin. Fishes that are affected by this trick with time learned to distinguish the mimic from the model. However, because the two species are too similar, the fishes become more cautious of the model as well. Hence, both the mimic and model are affected. As a result of the dupe fishes being able to discriminate between the mimic and the helper, the blennies have evolved close similarities with the model even down to the regional level.

The zone-tailed hawk is another interesting example that does not involve any luring. This animal resembles the turkey vulture and flies amongst the vultures. Flying amongst the vulture, it then suddenly breaks from the formation and ambushes its prey. In this case, the presence of the hawk is of no evident significance to the vultures. It doesn’t affect the vulture negatively or positively.

Parasites

Some Parasites can be aggressive mimics as well. However, their situation is somewhat different from those discussed previously. As some predators have a feature that attracts their prey, parasites too can mimic the natural prey of their hosts though eaten in order to get a pathway into their host.

In the digestive system of songbirds, the genus Leucochloridium of flatworm matures. The eggs of these worms then pass out of the bird in the feces. These eggs are then taken up by a terrestrial snail, Succineal. The snail is the intermediate host and the parasite eggs develop in them, as they await a suitable bird to mature in. The sporocyst of these parasites adopts a strategy to get to the intestine of its host since the host birds do not eat snails. These sporocysts are brightly colored and move in a pulsating manner. A sporocyst-sac will usually pulsate in the eyestalks of the snail, resembling an irresistible meal for a songbird. With this mimicry, it has bridged the gap between its two hosts. Thus, allowing it to complete its life cycle.

Another parasite is a nematode, Myrmeconema neotropicum. This parasite infects and changes the color of the abdomen of worker ants, Cephalotes atratus. Hence, making these ants at the canopy, resemble the ripe fruits of the bully tree, Hyeronima alchorneoides. Also, it changes the ant’s behavior so that the gaster of the ant is held raised. This behavior is assumed to increases the chances of the ant being eaten by birds. Then, the droppings of birds in return are collected by other ants and fed to their brood. Thereby, increasing the spread of the nematode.

An unusual case is the planidium larvae of some beetles of the genus Meloe. These larvae mimic the sex attractant of their host. The larvae of the beetles form a group and generate a pheromone. This pheromone mimics the sex attractant of its host bee species. As a male bee comes and attempts to mate with the mass of larvae, they climb onto the abdomen of the male bee. Then, they transfer from the male bee to the female bee and to the bee nest. These parasites then parasitize the bee larvae in the nest.

There is a type of mimicry called host-parasite mimicry. This mimicry involves a two-species system where the host is mimicked by its parasite. Brood parasitism is a typical example of such mimicry. Cuckoos, for instance, exhibit brood parasitism. In this form of parasitism, the cuckoos have their offspring raised by another unwitting individual, usually from a different species. This reduces the biological organism’s parental investment in the process.

The key adaptation in brood parasitism is the ability of the organism to lay eggs that mimic the host eggs. However, there are cases of intraspecific brood parasitism which involve females laying eggs in a conspecific’s nest. This type of brood parasitism is illustrated by the goldeneye duck. However, the intraspecific brood parasitism does not represent a case of mimicry.

Chemical mimicry is a different mechanism. This is seen in the parasitic butterfly Phengaris rebeli. These parasites parasitize the ant species Myrmica schencki. They release chemicals that fool the worker ants. These ants see the caterpillar larvae as ant larvae. Hence, the ants enable the parasitic larvae to be brought directly into the nest of M. schencki.

Automimicry

This sort of mimicry happens within a single species and is called automimicry or intraspecific mimicry. A kind of such mimicry involves one where a part of an organism’s body mimics or resembles another part. For instance,  some snakes have tails that resemble their heads. So, they improve their chances of escape when threatened by moving backward and presenting the predator with the tail. Hence, escaping without fatal harm.

Furthermore, some authors use automimicry to refer to a situation where an organism mimics other morphs within the same species. For instance, in sexual mimicry, in some species, the female imitates the male and vice versa. Such examples are seen in some species of fishes, birds, and lizards.

Automimicry is a phenomenon that involves species gaining from its resemblance to others of the same species. Take the males of many bees and wasps, for instance, that resemble the females that are equipped with stingers. Therefore, the male wasps and bees are protected from predators by this resemblance since they are defenseless.

Automimicry can also be regarded as mimicry of toxic members of the same species. Many insect species, for example, feed on some kind of plant that contains a specific class of chemicals that makes the insects toxic or distasteful. However, they are not toxic or distasteful when they have fed on plants that lack such chemicals. For example, some insect species like the Daniadae, or milkweed butterflies feed on several species of the milkweed family that make them poisonous and emetic to most predators. Such insects are frequently aposematically colored and patterned. On several occasions, these insects are harmless and nutritious when they feed on non-poisonous plants. However, a bird that has once eaten a toxic species is unlikely to eat the harmless species that share the same aposematic coloration.

Automimicry examples

  • Some butterflies have the ability to absorb and tolerate poisons from the plants they feed on. They retain this poison in the immature (larval) stage and gain protection against predators through this mechanism. Some individuals or subpopulations of such butterflies that feed on nonpoisonous plants may fail to acquire such protection. However, they are avoided by predators that may have sampled protected individuals of the same species.
  • Similarly, some fishes possess eyespots near their tails. When they are mildly alarmed, they swim backward slowly presenting their tail as the head.
  • Some insects have sophisticated patterns on their train rather than head to confuse predators to attacking their tail instead of their head. For instance, some lycaenid butterflies have various sophisticated tail patterns and appendages that promote attacks at the rear instead of the head.
  • Many species of pygmy owl have false eyes on the back of their head. This misleads predators to react as though they were the subject of an aggressive stare.
  • Many caterpillars of species like hawkmoths possess eyespots on their anterior abdominal segments. They retract their thoracic segments and head when alarmed into the body. Then they leave the supposed threatening large eyes at the front of the visible part of the body.
  • Many insects misdirect predators such as jumping spiders and birds by possessing filamentous tails at the ends of their wings with patterns of markings on the wings. These two features combine to form a false head that misdirects predators.
  • The hairstreak butterflies commonly perch on a flower or twig upside down. As they do so, they repeatedly shift their rear wings, creating antenna-like movements of the tails on their wings. Studies support the hypothesis that this behavior is effective in diverging attacks from the insect’s head.
  • Males of several wasps and bees resemble the females that possess stingers. Therefore, the male wasps and bees are protected from predators by this resemblance since they are defenseless.

Emsleyan or Mertensian mimicry

This type of mimicry is an unusual phenomenon whereby a deadly prey imitates a less dangerous species. M. G. Emsley first put forward this type of mimicry as a possible explanation for how a predator is able to learn how to avoid a very dangerous aposematic animal, even when learning is unlikely as the predator is very likely to die.

Then, the German biologist, Wolfgang Wickler developed the theory. Also, he named it after the German herpetologist, Robert Mertens. This mimicry is unusual as the most harmful species are usually the model.

On a predator’s first encounter with a deadly snake, it is likely to die. Hence, it has no opportunity to learn to recognize the warning signals of the snake. As a result, for an extremely deadly snake, there is no advantage in being aposematic. Any predator that attacked the snake would be killed before it can even learn to avoid the deadly prey. Hence, the snake being camouflaged would be better to avoid attacks altogether. However, if the predator first learns to avoid less deadly snakes with warning colors, the deadly species could be attacked less often by mimicking the less dangerous snake.

Some harmless milk snake subspecies, deadly coral snakes, and the moderately toxic false coral snakes all have a red background color with black and white or yellow rings. In this mimicry, the mimics are both the milk snakes and the deadly coral snakes. Whereas the model is the false coral snakes.

Wasmannian mimicry

The mimic in wasmannian mimicry resembles a model that it lives together within a colony or nest. Most of the models in wasmannian mimicry are social insects such as termites, ants, wasps, and termites.

Vavilovian mimicry

A type of mimicry known as vavilovian mimicry is seen in weeds that share features through artificial selection with a domesticated plant. This mimicry was named after the Russian botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. Selection against the weed can happen either by using winnowing to separate its seeds from those of the crop or by manually killing the weed. For example, in rice fields, the early barnyard grass is a weed that looks similar to rice. The seed of the weed is usually mixed in rice and has become difficult to separate as a result of Vavilovian mimicry. Vavilovian mimics eventually may become domesticated themselves like in the case of rye in wheat. Nikolai Vavilov called these weed-crops secondary crops.

Vavilovian mimicry is a defensive mimicry as the weed mimics a protected species. This has a strong similarity to Batesian mimicry. They are similar since the weed does not share the characteristics that give the model its protection. However, there are some key differences between Batesian mimicry and vavilovian mimicry. The model and dupe are enemies in Batesian mimicry, whereas in vavilovian mimicry, the crop and its human growers are in a mutualistic relationship.

Despite being eaten by humans, the crop benefits from being dispersed and protected by humans. The actual reason the crop is protected is as a result of its usefulness to humans. Additionally, the weed crop is destroyed and not eaten. In fact, the only reason for killing the weed is because it affects the crop yields. Finally, it is important to know that this type of mimicry does not occur in ecosystems that are not altered by humans.

Gilbertian mimicry

This mimicry involves only two species and is like a reverse of host-parasite aggressive mimicry. In Gilbertian mimicry, a potential host or prey mimics its parasite or predator and drives it away. It was named after the American ecologist Lawrence E. Gilbert.

Gilbertian mimicry is seen in the genus Passiflora. The plant leaves contain toxins that discourage herbivorous animals. However, some larvae of the Heliconius butterfly have evolved enzymes. The enzymes break down these toxins. Thus, these butterflies specialize in the genus Passiflora.

This has put selection pressure on the host plants. The host plant evolves stipules that mimic the mature eggs of Heliconius near the point of hatching. As the butterflies tend to avoid laying eggs near existing ones, these stipules help protect the plant. In order to avoid exploitative intraspecific competition between caterpillars, the butterfly avoids clustering their eggs. Thus, the butterflies that lay their eggs on vacant leaves give their offspring a greater chance of survival.

The larvae of most Heliconius are cannibalistic, so the older leaves that hatch first on the leaves eat the new arrivals. So, it seems that the host plants under selection pressure from these butterflies have evolved egg dummies. Also, as further defense, the egg dummies are also nectaries that attract predators such as wasps and ants that feed on the caterpillars.

Browerian mimicry

In this form of mimicry, the model belongs to the same species like the mimic. This is rather a postulated form of automimicry. It was named after Jane Van Zandt Brower and Lincoln P. Brower. This mimicry occurs within a population where there is a palatability spectrum.

For example, the monarch butterfly and the queen belong to the subfamily Danainae and feed on milkweed species of varying toxicity. These butterfly species, therefore, store toxins from their host plant, and even in the adult form the toxin is maintained. However, some individual species are more toxic than others as the levels of toxin vary based on diet during the larval stage. Therefore, the less palatable organisms with their likeness already perfected, mimic the more dangerous individuals.

However, this is not always the case. In sexually dimorphic species, one sex may be more harmful than the other, which could mimic the protected sex. For instance, a monkey from Gabon, regularly ate male moths of the genus Anaphe, but after it tasted a noxious female, it promptly stopped.

Reproductive Mimicry

This type of mimicry occurs when the dupe directly helps in the mimic’s reproduction. Reproductive mimicry is common in plants with deceptive flowers. This may occur in Papua New Guinea fireflies. The deceptive flowers in the plant do not provide the reward they seem to offer and the signal of Pteroptyx effulgens is used by P. tarsalis to create aggregations to attract females.

Other forms of mimicry have a reproductive component. Such as aggressive mimicry, Batesian mimicry, Vavilovian mimicry involving seeds, and vocal mimicry in birds. If individuals of one sex in a species imitate members of the opposite sex to facilitate sneak mating, it is referred to as inter-sexual mimicry.

The three male forms (alpha, beta, and gamma) of the marine isopod Paracerceis sculpta is an apt example. Alpha males guard a harem of females and are the largest. Whereas Beta males mimic females and without being detected by the alpha males manage to enter the harem of females. Hence, they are allowed to mate. The smallest males are Gamma males and they mimic juveniles. Also, this allows them to mate with the females without being detected by the alpha males.

A similar case happens among common side-blotched lizards. Some of the male lizards to sneak matings with guarded females mimic the yellow throat coloration, and mating rejection behavior of the other sex. They look and behave like unreceptive females. However, this strategy is effective against the orange-throated usurper males but it is ineffective against the blue-throated guarder males that chase them away. Also, female spotted hyenas mimic their male by having pseudo-penises making them look like males.

Cryptic mimicry

This is a type of mimicry whereby an organism provides false signals or a lack of signals in order to deceive a potential predator. Crypsis in ecology is the ability of an organism to avoid detection by other organisms. Cryptic mimicry occurs in plants and is normally achieved visually.

Examples of cryptic mimicry

A climbing vine, Boquila trifoliata is a South American member of the family Lardizabalaceae. It has a highly variable phenotype. This plant is capable of mimicking the leaf features of plant species that it clings to. It adopts the color shape and size of the leaves.  Therefore, Boquila lowers its chances of herbivory by camouflaging its leafy appendages,

Examples of Animals that Use Mimicry

In animals, mimicry helps them live longer. Thus it is a desired trait. An animal stands a chance of surviving if it can trick its predator into thinking it is something less tasty or more dangerous. The mimic may mimic the sound, smell, or behavior of the animal or object it is mimicking.

Animals that exhibit mimicry over time tend to live longer than those animals that don’t use mimicry. These animals with these mimicry traits pass them down to their offspring. Mimicry is just a behavioral adaptation that animals have adopted and used over time.

Animals that mimic

  • Alligator snapping turtles
  • Copperheads
  • Coral snake
  • Firefly
  • Ismenius tiger butterflies
  • Kingsnake
  • Gopher snake
  • Milksnake
  • Mockingbirds
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Spicebush swallowtail
    butterfly
  • Mimic Octopus
  • Viceroy Butterfly
  • Katydid
  • Lyrebirds
  • Alcon Blue Butterfly
  • Snail Eyestalk Flatworms
  • Moth
  • Zone-Tailed Hawk
  • Death’s-head Hawkmoth
  • Mantis
  • Spider-tailed Horned Viper
  • Robber Fly
  • Anglerfish
  • Stick Bug

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly mimics the pipevine swallowtail butterfly
Spicebush swallowtail butterfly imitates the pipevine swallowtail butterfly

The caterpillars of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly are mimics. These caterpillars are dark brown streaked with white. Usually, they resemble bird droppings. Due to this, they are not palatable to birds. These caterpillars in their fourth and last stage become greenish-yellow having 2 large false eyespots.  The eyespot that looks like eyes, together with the color of the caterpillar makes it look like a common green snake. Naturally, birds stay away from snakes.

Also, if attacked, the caterpillar thrusts out its osmeterium. The osmeterium is a Y-shaped organ that resembles the tongue of a snake. This organ also gives off a foul odor that discourages predators from eating them. Even when these caterpillars metamorphose into adults, they still exhibit mimicry. The spicebush swallowtail butterfly resembles the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. Since the pipevine swallowtail butterfly is distasteful, birds avoid the spicebush swallowtail butterfly as well.

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly mimics the pipevine swallowtail butterfly is the model of mimicry for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly
Spicebush swallowtail butterfly mimics the pipevine swallowtail butterfly is the model of mimicry for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly

Kingsnake and milksnakes

These snakes mimic coral snakes. Coral snakes are poisonous and have colorful bands of red, black, and yellow. Next to the red bands are always the yellow bands. Similarly, king and milk snakes have bands of black, red, and yellow mimicking the bright colors of the coral snake. However, on each side of the yellow bands are black bands. This coloring fool most predators as they mistake these harmless snakes for the deadly coral snake. Thus, predators avoid them.

Gopher snake

The gopher snake is harmless and mimics a poisonous rattlesnake. To confuse its predator, the gopher snake usually shakes its tail. This is to make the predator think the gopher snakes are rattlesnakes. However, instead of the gopher snake striking with an open mouth like a rattlesnake, it strikes with a closed mouth. When threatened, the gopher snake uses its blunt nose to strike the animal or even humans.

Alcon Blue Butterfly

The Alcon blue butterfly is another example of an animal that exhibits mimicry. They lay their eggs on the marsh gentian. For the larvae to attract ants, it leaves the plant and migrates to the ground. Then, it releases a chemical to trick ants. The chemical smells like ant larvae and tricks ants into thinking the larvae are their kind. These ants are deceived into carrying the larvae into the brood to feed among the ant larvae. Once the larvae metamorphose into an adult, the ants recognize the presence of an intruder. However, the butterfly is able to escape as it is protected by loosely attached scales.

Mimic Octopus

The mimic octopus as its name implies is one of the major animals that mimics. It has the ability to imitates a wide range of animals such as crabs, lionfish, venomous sole, sea snakes, jellyfish, mantis shrimp, and sea anemones. The mimic octopus flattens its body to mimics the sole venomous fish. It uses jet propulsion to swim at high speeds and resembles the fish-eating sea anemone as it raises its arms above the head with each arm bent in a zigzag shape. Also, the octopus imitates jellyfish by swimming to the surface and slowly sinking as it spreads its arms evenly around the body. This octopus species use mimicry to deter predators.

Viceroy Butterfly

As a defensive mechanism, the viceroy butterfly exhibits visual mimicry. This butterfly copies the external features of the monarch butterfly. The monarch butterfly is toxic and is avoided by predators. However, the relationship between the monarch and viceroy species is a type of Batesian mimicry. The harmless viceroy butterfly mimics the traits of the poisonous monarch butterfly as a means of protection. As a result, they are avoided by predators. Also, the viceroy butterfly to many predators also tastes unsavory and so the two butterflies co-mimic each other. Thus, benefiting from the deterrent feature of the other species.

Lyrebirds

An animal that copies almost any sound they hear is the Lyrebirds. They can swing their long beautiful tails to attract mates, moving them slowly and rhythmically. Also, they can violently swing the tail to deter predators. These birds can mimic the sound of birds of prey to discourage predators and sounds intended to attract prey.

Katydid

One of the few insects that use mimicry is the katydid. It actually uses mimicry to attract prey instead of deterring predators. Some kinds of katydids make use of defensive and aggressive mimicry. These insects mimic the wing-clicks of receptive female cicadas which is a response to the mating call from the male cicada. Also, they respond to the clicks of males, who are consequently deceived and end up being preyed on by the katydid as they draw nearer hoping to mate. Also, katydids are protected from predators as they look like bright green tree leaves.

Snail Eyestalk Flatworms

Most animals avoid being eaten by their predators by using mimicry. However, the snail eyestalk flatworms specifically use mimicry to be eaten by birds. They attract songbirds by mimicking insects and maggots. These parasites adopt a strategy to get to the intestine of their host since the songbirds do not eat snails. The sporocysts of the flatworm are brightly colored and move in a pulsating manner.

A sporocyst-sac will usually pulsate in the eyestalks of the snail, resembling an irresistible meal for a songbird. Once eaten by these birds, they reproduce within the body of the host such as robins and chats. The eggs of the flatworm mature in the digestive system of the songbird and are passed into the droppings. Then, the cycle repeats as these eggs are taken up by a terrestrial snail, Succineal. The snail is the intermediate host and the eggs develop in them, as the eggs await a songbird to mature in.

Zone-Tailed Hawk

Hawks and eagles are known and perceived as deadly birds of prey. As a result, when noticed by potential prey, they get an immediate flight response. The zone-tailed hawks, therefore, have evolved traits such as black plumage, a longer tail, dihedral forming wings, and a wobble in flight. Such traits are uncharacteristic of birds of prey making them resemble harmless turkey vultures. Hence, allowing them to get closer to prey without triggering an immediate flight response.

Moth

Moths use mimicry as a defensive mechanism. Some moths, despite the intricate design on them, are able to blend into plants and flowers. Different species of moth look like a wide range of other plants and animals. They can mimic wasps, mantis, owls,  cicada, frogs,  curled dead leaves, jumping spiders, and many other species.

Moreso, many of them use coloring and body shape, whereas many others have evolved some form of eyespots on their wings. These eyespots make them appear like as much larger animals and also protect them. It protects them as most predators dislike attacking prey that stares back at them. Some moth species may even mimic the sounds of other moths. This mimicry protects them from predators that dislike the taste of the mimicked species.

 Death’s-head Hawkmoth

The Death’s-head Hawkmoth has similar markings to a bee. However, this mimicry of the bee appearance is not the primary mimicry it uses. The hawkmoth also emits an odor that imitates that of the honey bee. This allows the moth to enter a beehive and eat the honey. As a result of this, it can thrive in the hive without being attacked and killed for its thievery. Also, it has been theorized by some that the moths are further protected by the squeaking sound they make like that of a queen bee.

Spider-tailed Horned Viper

The spider-tailed horned viper with its spider-like tail can lure in birds that feed on insects. Its skin can mimic the rocks of the area where it lives. However, that is not the only mimicry the spider-tailed horned viper exhibits. This snake using a form of aggressive mimicry lures birds of prey into its clutches. The tail of the snake has evolved to look like a spider. Once, the spider-tailed horned viper notices there is a bird nearby, it hides its body among the rocks. Then, moving its tail around, it imitates the movement of a large spider. As the bird comes for the supposed spider, the viper attacks the bird instead.

Mantis

In order to protect themselves from predators or ensnare prey, the mantis is capable of blending into the foliage despite their bulging eyes and triangular heads that make them stand out. Mantis uses mimicry for survival.

Various species of Mantis can resemble an assortment of plants and their parts. Some of them resemble dead leaves or sticks. Whereas, others resemble a small shoot with leaves on it. Even though they use these disguises to avoid predators, it is used also to catch some prey unawares.

The female Orchid Mantis, for instance, uses a very clever and awesome method for aggressive mimicry. Their bodies resemble orchids which lures in small pollinators to feed. The coloration of this mantis is actually brighter than the real flowers. Thus, making them a more attractive flower to entice their prey.

Robber Fly

The robber flies in the genus Laphria mimic wasps or bees in order to prey on other insects. These flies are almost identical to bumblebees. Hence, they use this resemblance to feed on real wasps, bees, and many other bugs. These insects are deceived and don’t fear the robber fly believing them to be bumblebees, who are no threat. Different Robber Fly species can look like different insects. Thus, they all lure prey using this mimicry.

 Stick Bug

Stick insects exhibit mimicry by mimicking sticks

As early as 126 million years ago, the stick insects began imitating plants. The Stick Bug is a well-known insect mimic which is also called a Walking Stick. As the name implies, this bug looks like a stick. All over the world, there are about 3000 species of stick insect. As not all trees look the same, likewise, not all stick insects look the same. These bugs usually look like sticks from the trees seen in their native habitat. Hence, they vary greatly in size. The largest stick bug measures about 21 inches.

Anglerfish

The anglerfish is another commonly known animal that uses mimicry for survival. This fish can be unattractive to the human eye. However, its mimicry system makes it very attractive to prey. The female Anglerfish lives deep in the ocean. How they find food is by using a piece of the dorsal spine. The dorsal spine has a glowing tip and dangles in front of the female anglerfish mouth. Thus, it resembles a fishing pole that lures in other fishes even up to twice her size.

Mimicry Examples in Nature

  • Stick bug mimicking sticks
  • Kingsnakes mimicking coral snakes to avoid predators
  • Death’s-head hawkmoth imitates the honey bee
  • The zone-tailed hawk mimicking turkey vultures to catch prey
  • Large eyespot on insects
  • Alligator snapping turtles mimic worms to catch their prey
  • Baby copperheads imitate caterpillars
  • The hammer orchid mimics a female wasp to lure male wasp for pollination
  • African mouth-breeding cichlid fish uses mimicry as a reproductive mechanism
  • Carrion flowers mimic rotting flesh to attract pollinators
  • Stinkhorn mushrooms mimic rotting flesh to attract insects for seed dispersal
  • Some angiosperms mimic nectar-bearing plants
  • The saber-toothed blenny mimics the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse to catch its prey
  • African mouth-breeding cichlid fish uses  mimicry as a reproductive mechanism
  • The South American characid fish uses mimicry to attract a mating partner
  • Female fireflies of the genus Photuris mimic the female fireflies of the genus Photinus
  • Cuckoos mimic the eggs of their host in brood parasitism
  • Tiger leafwing butterflies mimic the Ishmenius tiger butterfly

Stick bug mimicking sticks

As early as 126 million years ago, the stick insects began imitating plants. The Stick Bug is a well-known insect mimic which is also called a Walking Stick. As the name implies, this bug looks like a stick. All over the world, there are about 3000 species of stick insect. As all trees don’t look the same, likewise, not all stick insects look the same. These bugs usually look like sticks from the trees seen in their native habitat. Hence, they vary greatly in size. The largest stick bug measures about 21 inches.

Kingsnakes mimicking coral snakes to avoid predators

Many kingsnakes mimic coral snakes. Coral snakes are poisonous and have colorful bands of red, black, and yellow. Next to the red bands are always the yellow bands. Similarly, kingsnakes have bands of black, red, and yellow mimicking the bright colors of the coral snake. However, on each side of the yellow bands are black bands. This coloring fool most predators as they mistake these harmless snakes for the deadly coral snake. Thus, predators avoid them. Hence, by mimicking coral snakes, these snakes are able to deter predators.

Death’s-head hawkmoth imitates the honey bee

The Death’s-head Hawkmoth has similar markings to a bee. However, this mimicry of the bee appearance is not the primary mimicry it uses. The hawkmoth also emits an odor that imitates that of the honey bee. This allows the moth to enter a beehive and eat the honey. As a result of this, it can thrive in the hive without being attacked and killed for its thievery. Also, it has been theorized by some that the moths are further protected by the squeaking sound they make like that of a queen bee.

The zone-tailed hawk mimicking turkey vultures to catch prey

These hawks mimic turkey vultures to catch prey. Vultures feed on weak or dead animals and so they are rarely dangerous to healthy animals. Due to this, the majority of animals ignore the vultures flying overhead. However, the zone-tailed hawk is a predator and feeds on healthy animals. So these zone-tailed hawks blend in with vultures and catch their prey by taking them by surprise.

Large eyespot on insects

Some animals can mimic themselves. For example, many insects have large eyespots on their backs. These eyespots are a common trick that animals use to confuse predators. Several kinds of moths, butterflies, frogs, caterpillars, and fish possess large circles on their bodies that resemble eyes. The eyespots fool predators into attacking
a less vulnerable part of the body since many of them usually aim for the eyes or
the head.

The four-eye butterflyfish, for instance, has large eyespots near its tail. The false eyes trick predators as they believe the fish will flee with their tail first, meanwhile, the fish swim away in the opposite direction.

Also, eyespots fool predators in another way as large eyespots trick the predators into
assuming they are seeing the eyes of a much bigger organism. The owl butterfly, for example, rests on tree trunks and mimics the eye of an owl. Its brown coloring enables it to blend in
with the tree bark’s color as its eyespot mimics the eye of an owl. The majority of predators looking for moths don’t near an owl. Thus, the owl butterfly is protected from predation.

Alligator snapping turtles mimic worms to catch their prey

The alligator snapping turtle uses its tongues to capture fish. When they are hungry, they rest on the bottom of the water body they inhabit. Then, they open their mouth and wiggle their tongue. This act makes their tongue resemble a worm. Hence, fishes are attracted and drawn to them. As the fish comes close, the alligator snapping turtle snaps its jaws closed and captures the fish.

Baby copperheads imitate caterpillars

The tails of young copperheads are yellow. When searching for prey, they hide in the leaf litter and move their tails like a caterpillar. Once a nearby frog sees this, it approaches the snake. However, as the frog gets close, the snake strikes out and captures it.

The hammer orchid mimics a female wasp to lure male wasp for pollination

One of the most notable examples of plants that exhibit mimicry is the hammer orchid. The hammer orchid has both visual and olfactory mimics of a female wasp. It lures males to deposit and pick up pollen. A pollen sac called pollinia, depending on the morphology of the flower is attached to the abdomen or head of the male. The pollen sac is then transferred to the stigma of the next flower that the male tries to inseminate. Hence, resulting in pollination.

Also, physiologically and morphologically, the orchid Epipactis helleborine is adapted to attract social wasps as their primary pollinators. These social wasps feed their larvae with insects such as caterpillars. However, in order to locate their caterpillar prey, they combine and use olfactory and visual cues. The flowers of Epipactis helleborine and Epipactis purpurata releases green-leaf volatiles (GLVs). These emitted volatile are attractive to foragers of the social wasps (Vespula germanica and V. vulgaris).

Carrion flowers mimic rotting flesh to attract pollinators

Carrion flowers, attract necrophagous insects by mimicking the scent and appearance of rotting flesh. Necrophagous insects are carrion-feeding insects that search for dead animals to use as brood sites, such insects are flesh flies, house flies, blowflies, and some beetles.

The decaying smell that the flower gives off comes from oligosulfides. Oligosulfides are decayed proteins that contain amino acids, methionine, and cysteine. Even though carrion flowers produce a small amount of nectar, their relationship to necrophagous insects isn’t necessarily mutualistic. Insects mistake these carrion flowers for oviposition sites and lay eggs on them. The nectar of the flower lures these insects closer to the reproductive parts of the flower.

These flowers attract dung beetles and carrion flies just by mimicking the smell of dung or rotting flesh that these insects use as guides to sites for egg deposition. The cuckoopint has a metabolic level that is unequaled among plants. It spreads its odor over a wide area. This is achievable by an elevation of temperature that enhances the vaporization rate of the volatile odor substance. In the cuckoopint, a mechanism ensures that a pollen-laden visitor stays long enough to deposit the pollen.

The sheath of the floral structure is made slippery by oil droplets. Due to this slipperiness, the insect lands on the floral structure and slides down into a cup equipped with a ring of spines to prevent the insect from escaping. As the insect tries to climb out, it deposits pollen on the tiny female flowers. The male flowers mature during the night and cover the resting insect with pollen.

Then the insect is released as the spines shrink. Usually, the production of the attractant odor occurs at midday. This is when many necrophagous insects are active. The timing of the cuckoopint’s odor production is controlled the day before the male flowers mature. It is controlled by a substance produced by the male flowers about 6 to 18 hours before maturity.

Stinkhorn mushrooms mimic rotting flesh to attract insects for seed dispersal

The stinkhorn mushrooms of the genus Phallus exhibit similar mimicry with carrion flowers. These mushrooms are usually found, in woodlands and meadows of the Northern Hemisphere. A thick greenish-black, shiny layer of gelatinous spore slime (gleba) covers the cap of the young stinkhorn. The cap is eaten by blowflies and other insects that are attracted by the carrion-like odor. These insects aid the dispersal of the spores of the mushroom as the spores pass through their digestive tracts and are voided with the feces.

Mosses mimic nectar-bearing true flower and carrion-like odor to attract insects for seed dispersal

Some mosses of the genus Splanchnum have flowerlike structures that attract flies. They attract the flies by mimicking nectar-bearing true flower and carrion-like odor.

Some angiosperms mimic nectar-bearing plants

Many angiosperms attract insects by mimicking the bright colors of nectar-bearing plants which indicate the presence of nectar. Without offering any nectar, some orchids imitate other flowering plants and rely on nectar-bearing plants to reward the nectar seekers.

The saber-toothed blenny mimics the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse to catch its prey

Cleaner fish have a mutualistic relationship with other fishes that allow them to eat their parasites and dead skin. Some even let the cleaner fish enter inside their body in order to hunt these parasites. However, the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse which is one of the species of the cleaner fish is a model to a mimetic species, the saber-toothed blenny. The Bluestreak wrasse inhabits coral reefs in the pacific oceans and Indian. Whereas, its mimic, the sabretoothed blenny resides in the Indian ocean.

This mimic looks like the wrasse both in size and coloration and even mimics the cleaner wrasse’s dance. It then fools its prey by imitating the cleaner wrasse that cleanses the body of other fishes. Once these fishes let their guard down, the sabretoothed blenny bites them and rip off their fin. Fishes that are affected by this trick with time learned to distinguish the mimic from the model. However, because the two species are too similar, the fishes become more cautious of the model as well. Hence, the mimic together with the model is affected. As a result of the dupe fishes being able to discriminate between the mimic and the helper, the blennies have evolved close similarities with the model even down to the regional level.

The South American characid fish uses mimicry to attract a mating partner

Corynopoma riisei, a small South American characid fish uses mimicry to attract a mating partner. In the male species, the gill cover is elongated into a thin whitish stalk that ends in a small blackish plate. The male, during courtship, raises the stalk and waves it jerkily. It does this in view of the female. The female mistakes the tip of the whitish stalk for an edible object, or organism like a tiny crustacean. However, mating occurs as the female approaches the male to catch this supposed prey.

African mouth-breeding cichlid fish uses  mimicry as a reproductive mechanism

The African mouth-breeding cichlid fish belonging to the genus Haplochromis uses mimicry as a reproductive mechanism. Immediately after the females of this species lay their eggs, they take them into their mouth before the male can even fertilize them. The male species on the other hand carry conspicuous orange or yellow spots near the base of the anal fin.

These spots closely resemble the eggs of their female species. Since the female is usually motivated to pick up loose eggs in her mouth, the male displays the fin spots to her. The male displays the spots while releasing sperm. However, as the female makes an attempt to pick up the false eggs, she takes in the sperm of the male species. This sperm then fertilize the eggs in her mouth. The model, in this case, is the real eggs, the mimic is the false eggs, and the signal receiver or dupe is the adult female of the cichlid.

Female fireflies of the genus Photuris mimic the female fireflies of the genus Photinus

The female fireflies of the genus Photuris emit the same light signals that females of the genus Photinus use as a mating signal. Research shows that the male fireflies from many different genera are attracted to these female fireflies of the genus Photuris. However, instead of mating, the males are eventually captured and eaten.

Most adult fireflies do not live long and do not feed at all. However, the females of the genus Photuris are known to feed on other beetles, as well as the males of the genus Photinus. When the female photuris perceives a flashing male Photinus, she responds with a flash mimicking the female Photinus’s slower response time.

Then, the female Photuris reduces the intensity of her flashes as the male Photinus approaches, in order to resemble the weaker signals of the smaller female Photinus. As the unfortunate male lands, it is captured by the photuris and eaten. However, the female Photuris gives a flash response when responding to the males of her own species. This response though is quite different from that of Photinus.

Cuckoos mimic the eggs of their host in brood parasitism

The European cuckoo as a brood parasite lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. These host birds serve as foster parents to the young cuckoos. Various species of small songbirds are the most frequent foster parents of this brood parasite. Even though the eggs of the host bird species vary in colors and spots, there is a striking resemblance between the eggs of the host and the cuckoo.

If a foreign egg is perceived in the nest, the majority of small birds react unfavorably by either abandoning the nest or building another nest over the first. Some even go as far as ejecting the strange egg. Consistently, each female cuckoo lays eggs of one color pattern and therefore parasitizes a specific host species.  However, a cuckoo that lays its egg randomly and leaves the eggs’ survival to chance would produce fewer offspring than a cuckoo that selects the host bird whose eggs match her own. In cuckoo, the control of egg coloration is probably genetically determined. However, the choice of correct hosts is assumed to be due to a learning process that takes place when the female cuckoo is a nestling. Thus,  learning to recognize her own foster parents.

Tiger leafwing butterflies mimic the Ishmenius tiger butterfly

The Ismenius tiger butterfly is distasteful and as a result, is avoided by birds. The tiger leafwing butterfly, on the other hand, seems to be tasteful to birds. Hence, they are preyed on by birds. Interestingly, these tiger leafwing butterflies to escape predators have evolved to resemble the Ismenius tiger butterflies. This protects them from birds as these birds mistake them for the distasteful butterflies. Therefore, these birds ignore the tiger leafwing butterflies entirely.

Mimicry in plants

In plants, mimicry involves a plant organism evolving to resemble another organism either physically or chemically. Thus, increasing the mimic’s Darwinian fitness. There are fewer documented cases and peer-reviewed studies of mimicry in plants than in animals. It has been studied far less than mimicry in animals.

However, in plants, mimicry gives protection against herbivores. Also, in plants it may deceptively encourage mutualists, such as pollinators, to render service without offering any reward to them.

Camouflage vs Mimicry

In organisms, camouflage and mimicry are similar as they both involve using shapes and colors to trick animals. However, distinguishing the two is not always clear when only the mimic and model are at hand. But the distinction is quite clear when the signal receiver (dupe) is known and reactions understood.

Mimicry and camouflage are both kinds of defense mechanisms for some organisms. In mimicry, the signals the mimic sends have a special significance for the receiver as well as the mimic. This signal has been evolved by the sender in order to be perceived by the receiver. Whereas, in camouflage, the sender primarily seeks to avoid detection by the receiver. This is done by imitating neutral background to the receiver.

Chameleon Exhibit camouflage
A chameleon blending into its environment

Camouflage, therefore, is when organisms change their colors or patterns to match their environment in order to blend in, e.g a chameleon. Mimicry, on the other hand, is when a harmless creature makes itself look dangerous or less palatable. The organisms mimic a more dangerous species or less palatable one, making other organisms afraid of eating them.

However, camouflage can be seen as visual mimicry. For instance, a chameleon changes color and camouflages in its surroundings to avoid being seen by its prey. Moreso, there are several animals that mimic their surroundings or another species in their habitat. Common examples are beetles, butterflies, some fish, and some amphibians.

Differences between mimicry and camouflage

A table showing the differences between mimicry and camouflage
MimicryCamouflage
This involves an organism imitating physiological and morphological characteristics as well as the behavior of unrelated organisms.This involves an organism changing its color or pattern to match its environment in order to blend in
In mimicry, the organism resembles another organismIn camouflage, the organism resembles their environment
The main purpose of mimicry is to avoid predators or lure a preyThe main purpose is to hide in the environment
This involves behavioral, morphological, or physiological characteristicsThis only involves morphological characteristics
Mimicry occurs in both plants and animalsCamouflage occurs mainly in animals
Types of mimicry include Batesian mimicry, Mullerian mimicry, Aggressive mimicry, Emsleyan or Mertensian mimicry, Wasmannian mimicry, Vavilovian mimicry, Automimicry, Browerian mimicry, Reproductive mimicry, Gilbertian mimicry, Cryptic mimicryTypes of camouflage include disruptive coloration, concealing coloration, and disguise coloration.

 

The main difference between camouflage and mimicry is that camouflage is an adaptation that enables animals to blend with their environment either using a kind of coloration or pattern. Whereas, mimicry involves an organism imitating physiological and morphological characteristics as well as the behavior of unrelated organisms.

Therefore, mimicry involves behavioral, morphological, and physiological adaptations, while camouflage only involves morphological characteristics. Also, camouflage in most cases relates to an animal or plant blending with its environment. Whereas, mimicry relates to an animal or plant taking on the resemblance of another species, and usually doesn’t involve blending in with the environment.

Furthermore, the types of mimicry, which include Mullerian, Batesian, aggressive, Emsleyan or Mertensian, Wasmannian mimicry, automimicry, browerian mimicry, reproductive mimicry, Gilbertian mimicry, cryptic mimicry, and vavilorian, are unrelated to the various forms of camouflaging, which include disruptive coloration, concealing coloration, and disguise coloration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *