AskDefine | Define mimicry

Dictionary Definition

mimicry

Noun

1 the act of mimicking; imitative behavior [syn: apery]
2 the resemblance of an animal species to another species or to natural objects; provides concealment and protection from predators

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

  1. The act or ability to simulate the appearance of someone or something else.
    They say that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, but I still think I'm being being mocked when he acts just like me.
    When animal mimicry goes really wrong they don't just look like something that a predator would ignore, they look like lunch.

Extensive Definition

In ecology, mimicry occurs when a group of organisms, the mimics, have evolved to share common perceived characteristics with another group, the models, through the selective action of a signal-receiver or dupe. Collectively this is known as a mimicry complex. The model is usually another species except in cases of automimicry. The signal-receiver is typically another intermediate organism, e.g the common predator of two species, but may actually be the model itself (such as a moth resembling the very spiders that prey on it). As an interaction, mimicry is in most cases advantageous to the mimic and harmful to the receiver, but may increase, reduce or have no effect on the fitness of the model depending on the situation. Models themselves are difficult to define in some cases, for example eye spots may not bear resemblance to any specific organism's eyes, and camouflage often cannot be attributed to any particular model.
Camouflage, in which a species appears similar to its surroundings, is essentially a form of visual mimicry, but usually is restricted to cases where the model is non-living or abiotic. In between camouflage and mimicry is mimesis, in which the mimic takes on the properties of a specific object or organism, but one to which the dupe is indifferent. Mimicry may involve morphology, behavior, and other properties. In any case, the signal always functions to deceive the receiver by preventing it from correctly identifying the mimic. In evolutionary terms, this phenomenon is a form of co-evolution usually involving an evolutionary arms race, and should not be confused with convergent evolution, which occurs when species come to resemble one another independently due to similar lifestyles.
Mimics may have multiple models during different stages of their life cycle, or they may be polymorphic, with different individuals imitating different models. Models themselves may have more than one mimic, though frequency dependent selection favors mimicry where models outnumber mimics. Models tend to be relatively closely related organisms,

Etymology

Use of the word mimicry dates back to 1637. It is derived from the Greek term mimetikos, "imitative," in turn from mimetos, the verbal adjective of mimeisthai, "to imitate." Originally used to describe people, it was only applied to other forms of life after 1851.

Classification

Many types of mimicry have been described. An overview of each follows, highlighting the similarities and differences between the various forms. Classification is often based on function with respect to the mimic (e.g. avoiding harm), though other parameters can also be used, and multidimensional classifications are required to understand the full picture. For this reason, some cases may belong to more than one class, e.g. automimicry and aggressive mimicry are not mutually exclusive, as one describes the species relationship between model and mimic, while the other describes the function for the mimic (obtaining food).

Defensive

Defensive or protective mimicry takes place when organisms are able to avoid an encounter that would be harmful to them by deceiving an enemy into treating them as something else. Four such cases are discussed here, the first three of which entail mimicry of an aposematic, harmful organism: Batesian mimicry, where a harmless mimic poses as harmful; Müllerian mimicry, where two harmful species share similar perceived characteristics; and Mertensian mimicry, where a deadly mimic resembles a less harmful but lesson-teaching model. Finally, Vavilovian mimicry, where weeds resemble crops, is discussed.

Batesian

    • The Ash Borer (Podosesia syringae), a moth of the Clearwing family (Sesiidae), is a Batesian mimic of the Common wasp because it resembles the wasp, but is not capable of stinging. A predator that has learned to avoid the wasp would similarly avoid the Ash Borer.
    • Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) - an unpalatable model with a number of mimics.
    • Common Crow (Euploea core) - an unpalatable model with a number of mimics. See also under Müllerian mimicry below.
    • Consul fabius and Eresia eunice imitate unpalatable Heliconius butterflies such as H. ismenius.
  • The False Cobra (Malpolon moilensis) is a mildly venomous but harmless colubrid snake which mimics the characteristic "hood" of an Indian cobra's threat display. The Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) similarly mimics the threat display of venomous snakes.

Müllerian

Müllerian mimicry describes a situation where two or more species have very similar warning or aposematic signals and both share genuine anti-predation attributes (e.g. being unpalatable). At first Bates could not explain why this should be so; if both were harmful why did one need to mimic another? The German naturalist Fritz Müller put forward the first explanation for this phenomenon: If two species were confused with one another by a common predator, individuals in both would be more likely to survive. This type of mimicry is unique in several respects. Firstly, both the mimic and the model benefit from the interaction, which could thus be classified as mutualism in this respect. The signal receiver is also advantaged by this system, despite being deceived regarding species identity, as it avoids potentially harmful encounters. The usually clear identity of mimic and model are also blurred. In cases where one species is scarce and another abundant, the rare species can be said to be the mimic. When both are present in similar numbers however it is more realistic to speak of each as comimics than of a distinct 'mimic' and 'model' species, as their warning signals tend to converge toward something intermediate between the two. Another theoretical problem comes up when one considers that the two species may exist on a continuum from the harmless to the highly noxious, raising the question of where Batesian mimicry ends and Müllerian convergence begins.
Examples:
  • Lepidoptera
    • The Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a member of a Müllerian complex with the Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) in shared coloration patterns and display behavior. The Viceroy has subspecies with somewhat different coloration, each one very closely matching the local Danaus species. E.g., in Florida, the pairing is of the Viceroy and the Queen Butterfly, and in Mexico, the Viceroy resembles the Soldier Butterfly. Therefore, the Viceroy is a single species involved in three different Müllerian pairs. This example was long believed to be a case of Batesian mimicry, with the Viceroy being the mimic and the Monarch the model, but it was more recently determined that the Viceroy is actually the more unpalatable species, though there is considerable individual variation. While L. archippus is really bad-tasting, Danaus species tend to be toxic rather than just repugnant, due to their different food plants.
    • Unpalatable Euploea species look very similar. See also under Batesian mimicry above.
    • The genus Morpho is palatable but are very strong fliers; birds - even species which are specialized for catching butterflies on the wing - find it very hard to catch them. The conspicuous blue coloration shared by most Morpho species seems to be a case of Müllerian mimicry.
    • Many different tiger moths make ultrasonic clicking calls to warn bats that they are unpalatable. Presumably a bat may learn to avoid any signalling moths, which would make this an example of Müllerian mimicry. as a possible answer for the problem of Coral Snake mimicry in the New World. It was elaborated on by the German biologist Wolfgang Wickler in a chapter of Mimicry in Plants and Animals, (but see Sheppard (1969)). This scenario is a little more difficult to understand, as it is usually the most harmful species that is the model. If a predator dies, it cannot learn to recognize a warning signal, e.g. bright colors in a certain pattern. In other words, there is no advantage in being aposematic if an organism will kill any predators it succeeds in poisoning. It would then be better off camouflaged instead, so as to avoid encounters altogether. If, however, there is another species that is harmful but not deadly, the predator may learn to avoid it. Provided it results in less encounters than camouflage, the deadly species can then profit by mimicking this aposematic organism.
The exception here, ignoring any chance of animals learning by watching a conspecific die (see Jouventin et al. for a discussion of observational learning and mimicry), is the possibility of not having to learn that it is harmful in the first place: instinctive genetic programming to be wary of certain signals. In this case, other organisms could benefit from this programming, and Batesian or Müllerian mimics of it could potentially evolve. In fact, it has been shown that some species do have an innate recognition of certain aposematic warnings. Hand-reared Turquoise-browed Motmots (Eumomota superciliosa), avian predators, instinctively avoid snakes with red and yellow rings. Other colors with the same pattern, and even red and yellow stripes with the same width as rings, were tolerated. However, models with red and yellow rings were feared, with the birds flying away and giving alarm calls in some cases. This provides one alternative explanation to Mertensian mimicry. See Greene and McDiarmid for a review of the subject.
Examples:
  • Some Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) subspecies (harmless), the moderately toxic False Coral Snakes (genus Erythrolamprus), and the deadly Coral Snakes all have a red background color with black and white/yellow stripes. In this system, both the milk snakes and the deadly coral snakes are mimics, whereas the false coral snakes are the model.

Wasmannian

Wasmannian mimicry refers to cases where the mimic resembles a model along with which it lives (inquiline) in a nest or colony. Most of the models here are social insects such as ants, termites, bees and wasps.

Mimetic weeds

Vavilovian mimicry describes weeds which comes to share characteristics with a domesticated plant through artificial selection. It is named after Russian botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. Selection against the weed may occur either by manually killing the weed, or separating its seeds from those of the crop. The latter process, known as winnowing, can be done manually or by a machine.
Vavilovian mimicry presents an illustration of unintentional (or rather 'anti-intentional') selection by man. While some cases of artificial selection go in the direction desired, such as selective breeding, this case presents the opposite characteristics. Weeders do not want to select weeds that look increasingly like the cultivated plant, yet there is no other option. A similar problem in agriculture is pesticide. Vavilovian mimics may eventually be domesticated themselves, and Vavilov called these weeds-come-crops secondary crops.
It can be classified as defensive mimicry in that the weed mimics a protected species. This bears strong similarity to Batesian mimicry in that the weed does not share the properties that give the model its protection, and both the model and the dupe (in this case people) are both harmed by its presence. There are some key differences, though; in Batesian mimicry the model and signal receiver are enemies (the predator would eat the protected species if could), whereas here the crop and its human growers are in a mutualistic relationship: the crop benefits from being dispersed and protected by people, despite being eaten by them. In fact, the crop's only 'protection' relevant here is its usefulness to humans. Secondly, the weed is not eaten, but simply destroyed. The only motivation for killing the weed is its effect on crop yields. Finally, this type of mimicry does not occur in ecosystems unaltered by humans.
One case is Echinochloa oryzoides, a species of grass which is found as a weed in rice (Oryza sativa) fields. The plant looks similar to rice and its seeds are often mixed in rice and difficult to separate. This close similarity was enhanced by the weeding process which is a selective force that increases the similarity of the weed in each subsequent generation.

Protective egg decoys

Unlike the above forms of mimicry, Gilbertian mimicry involves only two species. The potential host/prey drives away its parasite/predator by mimicking it, the reverse of host-parasite aggressive mimicry. It was coined by Pasteur as a term for such rare mimicry systems,
This form of protective mimicry occurs in the genus Passiflora. The leaves of this plant contain toxins which deter herbivorous animals, however some Heliconius butterfly larvae have evolved enzymes which break down these toxins, allowing them to specialize on this genus. This has created further selection pressure on the host plants, which have evolved stipules that mimic mature Heliconius eggs near the point of hatching. These butterflies tend to avoid laying eggs near each existing ones, which helps avoid exploitative intraspecific competition between caterpillars—those that lay on vacant leaves provide their offspring with a greater chance of survival. Additionally, most Heliconius larvae are cannibalistic, meaning those leaves with older eggs will hatch first and eat the new arrivals. Thus, it seems such plants have evolved egg dummies due to these grazing herbivore enemies. The decoy eggs are also nectaries though, attracting predators of the caterpillars such as ants and wasps. The extent of their mimetic function is therefore slightly more difficult to assess.
The use of eggs is not essential to this system, only the species composition and protective function. Many other forms of mimicry also involve eggs, such as cuckoo eggs mimicking those of their host (the reverse of this situation), or plants seeds being dispersed by ants, who treat them as they would their own eggs.

Protective mimicry within a species

Browerian mimicry is a form of automimicry; where the model belongs to the same species as the mimic. This is the analogue of Batesian mimicry within a single species, and occurs when there is a palatability spectrum within a population. One example is Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus), which feed on milkweed species of varying toxicity. This species stores toxins from its host plant, which are maintained even in the adult (imago) form. As the levels of toxin will vary depending on diet during the larval stage, some individuals will be more toxic than others. The less palatable organisms will therefore be mimics of the more dangerous individuals, with their likeness already perfected. This need not be the case however; in sexually dimorphic species one sex may be more of a threat than the other, which could mimic the protected sex. Evidence for this possibility is provided by the behavior of a monkey from Gabon, which regularly ate male moths of the genus Anaphe, but promptly stopped after it tasted a noxious female.

Aggressive

Aggressive mimicry describes predators (or parasites) which share the same characteristics as a harmless species, allowing them to avoid detection by their prey (or host). It is less often known as Peckhamian mimicry after George and Elizabeth Peckham. The mimic may resemble the prey or host itself, or another organism which is either neutral or beneficial to the signal receiver. In this class of mimicry the model may be affected negatively, positively or not at all. Just as parasites can be treated as a form of predator, host-parasite mimicry is treated here as a subclass of aggressive mimicry.
The mimic may have a particular significance for duped prey. One such case is spiders, amongst which aggressive mimicry is quite common in both in luring prey and stealthily approaching predators. One case is the Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila clavipes), which spins a conspicuous golden colored web in well-lit areas. Experiments show that bees are able to associate the webs with danger when the yellow pigment is not present, as occurs in less well-lit areas where the web is much harder to see. Other colors were also learned and avoided, but bees seemed least able to effectively associate yellow pigmented webs with danger. Yellow is the color of many nectar bearing flowers, however, so perhaps avoiding yellow is not worth while. Another form of mimicry is based not on color but pattern. Species such as Argiope argentata employ prominent patterns in the middle of their webs, such as zigzags. These may reflect ultraviolet light, and mimic the pattern seen in many flowers known as nectar guides. Spiders change their web day to day, which can be explained by bee's ability to remember web patterns. Bees are able to associate a certain pattern with a spatial location, meaning the spider must spin a new pattern regularly or suffer diminishing prey capture.
Another case is where males are lured towards what would seem to be a sexually receptive female; the model in this situation being the same species as the dupe. Beginning in the 1960s, James E. Lloyd's investigation of female fireflies of the genus Photuris revealed they emit the same light signals that females of the genus Photinus use as a mating signal. Further research showed male fireflies from several different genera are attracted to these "femmes fatales", and are subsequently captured and eaten. Female signals are based on that received from the male, each female having a repertoire of signals matching the delay and duration of the female of the corresponding species. This mimicry may have evolved from non-mating signals that have become modified for predation.
Some carnivorous plants may also be able to increase their rate of capture through mimicry.
Luring is not a necessary condition however, as the predator will still have a significant advantage by simply not being identified as such. They may resemble a mutualistic symbiont or a species of little relevance to the prey.
A case of the former situation is a species of cleaner fish and its mimic, though in this example the model is greatly disadvantaged by the presence of the mimic. Cleaner fish are the allies of many other species, which allow them to eat their parasites and dead skin. Some allow the cleaner to venture inside their body to hunt these parasites. However, one species of cleaner, the Bluestreak cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus), is the unknowing model of a mimetic species, the Sabre-toothed blenny (Aspidontus taeniatus). This wrasse, shown to the left cleaning a grouper of the genus Epinephelus, resides in coral reefs in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, and is recognized by other fishes who then allow it to clean them. Its imposter, a species of blenny, lives in the Indian Ocean and not only looks like it in terms of size and coloration, but even mimics the cleaner's 'dance'. Having fooled its prey into letting its guard down, it then bites it, tearing off a piece of its fin before fleeing the scene. Fish grazed upon in this fashion soon learn to distinguish mimic from model, but because the similarity is close between the two they become much more cautious of the model as well, such that both are affected. Due to victim's ability to discriminate between foe and helper, the blennies have evolved close similarity, right down to the regional level.
Another interesting example that does not involve any luring is the Zone-tailed Hawk, which resembles the Turkey Vulture. It flies amongst the vultures, suddenly breaking from the formation and ambushing its prey. Here the hawk's presence is of no evident significance to the vultures, affecting them neither negatively or positively.

Parasites

Parasites can also be aggressive mimics, though the situation is somewhat different than those outlined above.
Some of the predators described have a feature that draws prey, and parasites can also mimic their host's natural prey, but are eaten themselves, a pathway into their host. Leucochloridium, a genus of flatworm, matures in the digestive system of songbirds, their eggs then passing out of the bird via the feces . They are then taken up by Succinea, a terrestrial snail. The eggs develop in this intermediate host, and then must find of a suitable bird to mature in. Host birds do not eat snails though, so the sporocyst must find some strategy to reach its host's intestine. For this function, they are brightly colored and move in a pulsating fashion. A sporocyst-sac pulsates in the snail's eye stalks, coming to resemble an irresistible meal for a songbird. In this way, it can bridge the gap between hosts, allowing it to complete its life cycle.
In an unusual case, planidium larvae of some beetles of the genus Meloe will form a group and produce a pheromone that mimics the sex attractant of its host bee species; when the male bee arrives and attempts to mate with the mass of larvae, they climb onto his abdomen, and from there transfer to a female bee, and from there to the bee nest to parasitize the bee larvae.
Host-parasite mimicry is a two species system where a parasite mimics its own host. Cuckoos are a canonical example of brood parasitism, a form of kleptoparasitism where the mother has its offspring raised by another unwitting organism, cutting down its the biological mother's parental investment in the process. Cases of interspecific brood parasitism, where a female lays in conspecific's nest, as illustrated by the Goldeneye duck (Bucephala clangula), do not represent a case of mimicry.

Reproductive

Reproductive mimicry occurs when the actions of the dupe directly aid in the mimic's reproduction. This is common in plants, which may have deceptive flowers that do not provide the reward they would seem to. Other forms of mimicry have a reproductive component, such as Vavilovian mimicry involving seeds, and brood parasitism, which also involves aggressive mimicry.

Mimicry of flowers

Bakerian mimicry, named after Herbert G. Baker, is a form of automimicry where female flowers mimic male flowers of their own species, cheating pollinators out of a reward. This reproductive mimicry may not be readily apparent as members of the same species may still exhibit some degree of sexual dimorphism. It is common in many species of Caricaceae.
Like Bakerian mimicry, Dodsonian mimicry is a form of reproductive floral mimicry, but the model belongs to a different species than the mimic. The name refers to Calaway H. Dodson. By providing similar sensory signals as the model flower, it can lure its pollinators. Like Bakerian mimics, no nectar is provided. Epidendrurn ibaguense of the family Orchidaceae resembles flowers of Lantana camara and Asclepias curassavica, and is pollinated by Monarch Butterflies and perhaps hummingbirds. Similar cases are seen in some other species of the same family. The mimetic species may still have pollinators of its own though, for example a lamellicorn beetle which usually pollinates correspondingly colored Cistus flowers is also known to aid in pollination of Ophrys species that are normally pollinated by bees.

Pseudocopulation

Pseudocopulation occurs when a flower mimics a female of a certain insect species, the males of which try to copulate with it. This is much like the aggressive mimicry in fireflies described above, but with a much more benign outcome for the pollinator. This form of mimicry has been called Pouyannian mimicry, It is most common in orchids which mimic females of the order Hymenoptera (generally bees and wasps), and may account for around 60% of pollinations. Depending on the morphology of the flower, a pollen sac called a pollinia is attached to the head or abdomen of the male. This is then transferred to the stigma of the next flower the male tries to inseminate, resulting in pollination. Visual mimicry is the most obvious sign of this deception for humans, but the visual aspect may be minor or non-existent. It is the senses of touch and olfaction that are most important.

Other

Some forms of mimicry do not fit easily within the classification given above.
Owl butterflies (genus Caligo) bear eye-spots on the underside of their wings; if turned upside-down, their undersides resemble the face of an owl (such as the Short-eared Owl or the Tropical Screech Owl) for which in turn the butterfly predators - small lizards and birds - would be fooled. Thus it has been supposed that the eye-spots are a form of Batesian mimicry. However, the pose in which the butterfly resembles an owl's head is not normally adopted in life. Recently zoologists have shown experimentally that eye-spots are not a form of mimicry and do not deter predators because they look like eyes, rather patterns on moth wings deter predators due to conspicuousness.
Another case is floral mimicry induced by the discomycete fungus Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi. In this unusual case, a fungal plant pathogen infects leaves of blueberries, causing them to secrete sugary substances including glucose and fructose, in effect mimicking the nectar of flowers. To the naked eye the leaves do not look like flowers, yet strangely they still attract pollinating insects like bees. As it turns out, the sweet secretions are not the only cues—the leaves also reflect ultraviolet, which is normally absorbed by the plant's leaves. Ultraviolet light is also employed by the host's flowers as a signal to insects, which have visual systems quite capable of picking up this low wavelength (300-400nm) radiation. The fungus is then transferred to the ovaries of the flower where it produces mummified, inedible berries, which overwinter before infecting new plants. This case is unusual in that the fungus benefits from the deception, but it is the leaves which act as mimics, being harmed in the process. It bears similarity to host-parasite mimicry, but the host does not receive the signal. It also has a little in common with automimicry, but the plant does not benefit from the mimicry, and the action of the pathogen is required to produce it.

Evolution

It is widely accepted that mimicry evolves as a positive adaptation; that is, the mimic gains fitness via convergent evolution which results in resemblance to another species, though there are a few who have suggested that evolution is non-adaptive or merely a result of structural similarities. The lepidopterist (and sometime author) Vladimir Nabokov argued that much of insect mimicry, including the Viceroy/Monarch mimicry, resulted from the fact that coloration patterns in both species simply had a common structural basis, and thus the tendency for convergence by chance was high. However, this very example provides evidence precisely to the contrary, as the viceroy's color pattern is completely unlike any of the species to which it is closely related, and the viceroy itself has three color forms, each adapted to resemble a different species of Danaus.

Similar terms

  • Mimetic is an adjective used to describe cases of mimicry, but is also used in mathematics (see mimetic). This should not be confused with memetics, the scientific study of memes.
  • Mimesis also refers to imitation, especially relating to the arts.

Further reading

  • Vane-Wright RI. 1976. A unified classification of mimetic resemblances. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 8:25-56
  • Cott, H.B. (1940) Adaptive Coloration in Animals. Methuen and Co, Ltd., London ISBN 0416300502
  • Wickler, W. (1968) Mimicry in Plants and Animals (Translated from the German) McGraw-Hill, New York. ISBN 0070701008
  • Edmunds, M. 1974. Defence in Animals: A Survey of Anti-Predator Defences. Harlow, Essex & NY: Longman 357 p. ISBN 0582441323
  • Owen, D. (1980) Camouflage and Mimicry. Oxford University Press ISBN 0192176838
  • Pasteur, Georges (1982). “A classificatory review of mimicry systems”. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 13: 169–199.
  • Brower, L. (ed.) (1988). Mimicry and the Evolutionary Process. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226076083 (a supplement of volume 131 of the journal American Naturalist dedicated to E. B. Ford.)
  • Ruxton, G. D.; Speed, M. P.; Sherratt, T. N. (2004). Avoiding Attack. The Evolutionary Ecology of Crypsis, Warning Signals and Mimicry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198528604
  • Evans, M. A. (1965) Mimicry and the Darwinian Heritage Journal of the History of Ideas 26 (2): 211-220.
  • Wiens, D. (1978) Mimicry in Plants. Evolutionary Biology. 11:365–403.
  • Dafni, A. (1984) Mimicry and Deception in Pollination Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 15 : 259-278.
  • An introductory book for a younger audience: Hoff, M. K. (2003) Mimicry and Camouflage. Creative Education. Mankato, Minn. Great Britain. ISBN 1583412379
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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

acting, aggressive mimicry, apery, aping, buffoonery, business, caricature, characterization, cryptic mimicry, dumb show, embodiment, enacting, enactment, gag, ham, hammy acting, hoke, hokum, imitation, impersonation, incarnation, masquerade, mimesis, mimicking, miming, mock, mockery, mummery, overacting, pantomime, pantomiming, parody, parrotry, patter, performance, performing, personation, personification, playacting, playing, playing possum, portrayal, posing, projection, protective coloration, representation, slapstick, stage business, stage directions, stage presence, stunt, synaposematic mimicry, taking a role
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