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mimicry

mimicry, in biology, the advantageous resemblance of one species to another, often unrelated, species or to a feature of its own environment. (When the latter results from pigmentation it is classed as protective coloration.) Mimicry serves either to protect the mimic from its predators, as when the model is inedible or dangerous, or to deceive its prey (e.g., certain ant-eating spiders that themselves resemble ants). Mimicry occurs in both plants and animals but is most prevalent among insects, particularly butterflies and moths. The first scientific studies on the subject were published by English naturalists H. W. Bates (1862) and A. R. Wallace (1865). The Batesian theory is based on the operation of natural selection: if, say, a harmless snake acquires a deceptive resemblance to a poisonous variety it is then more likely to escape its predators and thus to survive and propagate, producing offspring with the same appearance. Examples of mimicry are the resemblance of the viceroy butterfly to the monarch butterfly, which is repugnant to birds; harmless nettles that resemble stinging nettles; and the many fishes, crabs, and slugs of the Sargasso Sea that resemble the floating seaweed masses they inhabit.

See W. Wickler, Mimicry in Plants and Animals (tr. 1968); L. P. Brower, Mimicry and the Evolutionary Process (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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