From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Good articleMimicry has been listed as one of the Natural sciences good articles under the good article criteria. If you can improve it further, please do so. If it no longer meets these criteria, you can reassess it.
Article milestones
December 14, 2007Good article nomineeListed
February 7, 2008Good article reassessmentDelisted
August 26, 2015Good article nomineeListed
Current status: Good article
WikiProject Evolutionary biology (Rated GA-class, High-importance)
WikiProject iconThis article is part of WikiProject Evolutionary biology, an attempt at building a useful set of articles on evolutionary biology and its associated subfields such as population genetics, quantitative genetics, molecular evolution, phylogenetics, and evolutionary developmental biology. It is distinct from the WikiProject Tree of Life in that it attempts to cover patterns, process and theory rather than systematics and taxonomy. If you would like to participate, there are some suggestions on this page (see also Wikipedia:Contributing FAQ for more information) or visit WikiProject Evolutionary biology
 GA  This article has been rated as GA-Class on the project's quality scale.
 High  This article has been rated as High-importance on the project's importance scale.
WikiProject Ecology (Rated GA-class, Mid-importance)
WikiProject iconThis article is within the scope of the WikiProject Ecology, an effort to create, expand, organize, and improve ecology-related articles.
 GA  This article has been rated as GA-Class on the quality scale.
 Mid  This article has been rated as Mid-importance on the importance scale.

Defining mimicry[edit]

The definition of mimicry has been a topic of confusion and controversy for over a century, so I can understand that depending on references chosen, it can vary. However, it is important that the definition used at the top of the article be inclusive enough that it be consistent with content listed below. If mimicry is defined as "protective" then it cannot include aggressive or reproductive mimicry. Furthermore, mimicry is a phenomenon with three parties involved: the mimic, the model, and the receiver (whose identities may overlap, depending on the system). Critically, the model has to be able to participate in coevolution as well - this distinguishes mimicry from masquerade. Finally, mimicry can evolve within species (for example sexual mimicry where males mimic females), so the definition should not be exclusive to species, but more inclusively to organisms generally. Therefore, it would be appropriate changing the definition to the one supported by Endler, rather than the one currently listed. Dwkikuchi (talk) 23:16, 19 September 2016 (UTC)

@Template:U:Dwkikuchi: I strongly believe that the lead of any article should simply summarize the article. Therefore, if changes are needed, they should be to the article's body, not the lead, and all the references should be in the body – no new facts, claims or arguments should be introduced in the lead. Therefore, the lead should not be cited unless something is so controversial that a ref has to be repeated there for clarity.
In addition, you have introduced a quantity of minor formatting errors - most noticeably, we place punctuation immediately before references, without spaces, like this: ".<ref name=Bloggs>...</ref> The ..." But all the refs should be moved out of the lead anyway. Another thing: the article is in "British English". Chiswick Chap (talk) 08:18, 21 September 2016 (UTC)

mimesis vs masquerade[edit]

The terms "mimesis" and "masquerade" are currently used inconsistently. Moreover, contemporary sources like Ruxton et al. 2004 and subsequent empirical work by Rowland, Skelhorn, and Stevens place the phenomenon under camouflage, rather than mimicry. Dwkikuchi (talk) 17:21, 19 September 2016 (UTC)


References for various forms of resemblance included under automimicry need to be elaborated. Eyespots are the subject of a rich contemporary literature.[1][2][3] and not typically considered mimetic, because the eyes they are hypothesiezed to resemble have not evolved to signal their presence to other animals. That they resemble eyespots themselves is also contradicted by some empirical evidence.[4]

Love the "hypothesiezed", taking the bull by the horns perhaps.
Clearly Dwkikuchi (talk) 18:01, 20 September 2016 (UTC)
Well I wonder. The eyespots do not have to resemble an actual animal (though fanciful comparisons have been made in older books): they need only startle, confuse, help to dissuade, or divert the attack of a potential predator to be effective. That they actually do some or all of these things is surely not in doubt: the fact that butterflies are frequently damaged on the hindwings shows that the eyespot areas are often attacked. The functions of eyespots (mainly the topic of another article) could include sexual selection and startle (deimatic): the role of the discussion in this article is to say how far they may be imitating something, for example by resembling generalized eyes sufficiently to signal "big animal" to a predator. That is clearly a different case from Batesian or Mullerian mimicry (a la mimicking wasp stripes), and it seems odd not to call that resemblance 'mimicry'.
I do not wish to weigh in on what eyespots are classifed as myself, but rather to represent in the Wiki what the majority of recent research (references here, also Ruxton et al., etc.) presents. To place this under automimicry would seem to use the same term for multiple phenomena. Would it not be possible to mention, in the Introduction or subheading for "Types of Mimicry" the similarity of eyespot mimicry to other sorts of protective resemblance, and refer readers to they "Eyespots" article for more in-depth discussion? Dwkikuchi (talk) 18:01, 20 September 2016 (UTC)
On the need to say more, I agree; as the Mimicry#Automimicry section is already of a good length, that will lead to an Automimicry article (the link redirected here, so I've started the article), which will (eventually) be summarized in this article (leading to the updating of the existing text so as to represent the message of the Automimicry article better). On the rich literature, we need to proceed carefully, using review papers if possible, rather than individual bits of primary research. Chiswick Chap (talk) 06:49, 20 September 2016 (UTC)

Use of the term "automimicry" in reference to parts of the body that resemble one another is obscure (Guthrie and Petocz 1970), and more closely related to multicomponent signals that are designed to increase signal efficacy [5](sensu Hebets and Papaj 2005), rather than mimicry in the sense of deception or mutualism.

Deception or mutualism: two different things. I'd not think that using a 1970 paper to argue that automimicry is "obscure" is especially convincing. On the contrary Lycaenid butterflies have "tails" resembling their heads, and rest with their heads down, tails up (helping to divert attack from head to tail, deceiving the predator, but certainly not mutualism) so there's a variety of different types of evidence for automimicry in the group; and much has been written on the subject since then. Chiswick Chap (talk) 06:49, 20 September 2016 (UTC)
I do not intend the date of the citation to mean that the reference is obscure, but rather that that lone citation seems to be the origin of that usage, and that its own authors point out in a footnote that their usage is not to be confused with mimicry in the context of predator-prey interactions. It is really a fascinating paper about how threatening structures in mammals (such as horns) are also repeated in facial markings on the fur. The authors hypothesize that this is to reinforce threat displays. This is an example of structures that have evolve to reinforce a signal being sent, but is a distinct evolutionary phenomenon from mimicry. It seems quite important to classify this correctly if it's part of the Evolutionary Biology project. I don't believe that this is the same thing as what your Lycaenid butterflies do, which could be mimicry, startle, or misdirection (Ruxton et al have a nice bit on this sort of resemblance in their penultimate or last chapter).Dwkikuchi (talk) 18:01, 20 September 2016 (UTC)

Automimicry has its most abundant usage when it refers to the phenomenon where not all members of an aposematic species are defended, so that some members of the population are parasitic on the others.[6] Dwkikuchi (talk) 23:42, 19 September 2016 (UTC)

Phrases like "has its most abundant usage" are definitely too technical (focused on the technical literature, not on the mimicry itself) for a Wikipedia article. We are aiming to create a clear, comprehensible overview of the topic for a general audience, supported by evidence and examples. Ruxton 2004 is an excellent book but very technical: where we use such things, we have to "unpack" them with suitable glosses, wikilinks, examples, and illustrations. I'd say we don't try to explain "most abundant usage" at all, we just make sure we mainly talk about the case Ruxton is referring to, and mention the other cases too in a more minor way. (i.e. we take Ruxton's statement as a direction to editors.)Chiswick Chap (talk) 06:49, 20 September 2016 (UTC)
I certainly wouldn't want to use this wording in the main article, but think the subsection should reflect that the vast majority of research on automimicry has be done in reference to this phenomenon. I will get out my copy of Ruxton and try to unpack its content as best I can. Dwkikuchi (talk) 18:01, 20 September 2016 (UTC)

Shouldn't mimicry of morphs within species be included under reproductive mimicry? The references cited for lizard polymorphism do not use the term "automimicry", except for the one by Svennungsen and Holen, which is about prey species with individuals that differ in their chemical defenses.Dwkikuchi (talk) 18:01, 20 September 2016 (UTC)

I think that rather than start any more discussion threads ;-) it might be best if you simply went WP:BOLDly ahead and edited Automimicry for a bit, using these and other references. I can have a go at copy-editing, writing the lead, and perhaps illustrating the article. Then we can think what to put back in Mimicry#Automimicry when the dust has settled a bit. I assume the current length is about right, but the balance will probably shift a bit. Chiswick Chap (talk) 18:43, 20 September 2016 (UTC)


  1. ^ Stevens, M. (22 June 2007). "Predator perception and the interrelation between different forms of protective coloration". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 274 (1617): 1457–1464. doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.0220.
  2. ^ Stevens, Martin; Stubbins, Claire L; Hardman, Chloe J (30 May 2008). "The anti-predator function of 'eyespots' on camouflaged and conspicuous prey". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 62 (11): 1787–1793. doi:10.1007/s00265-008-0607-3.
  3. ^ Hossie, Thomas John; Sherratt, Thomas N. (August 2013). "Defensive posture and eyespots deter avian predators from attacking caterpillar models". Animal Behaviour. 86 (2): 383–389. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.05.029.
  4. ^ Stevens, Martin; Hopkins, Elinor; Hinde, William; Adcock, Amabel; Connolly, Yvonne; Troscianko, Tom; Cuthill, Innes C. (November 2007). "Field experiments on the effectiveness of 'eyespots' as predator deterrents". Animal Behaviour. 74 (5): 1215–1227. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.01.031.
  5. ^ Guilford, T.; Dawkins, M.S. "Receiver psychology and the evolution of animal signals". Animal Behavior. 42: 1-14.
  6. ^ Ruxton; et al. (2004). Avoiding Attack. Explicit use of et al. in: |first1= (help)

Emsleyan/Mertensian needs fleshing out / attention from an expert[edit]

The section on Emsleyan/Mertensian mimicry makes little sense as written. The sources it cites aren't available online and after a bit of googling I wasn't able to find any better explanation, so I'd really like for an expert on the subject to flesh out the section a little better.

The problem: The section implies that a predator that has been "taught a lesson" is better than a dead predator. But this can ONLY be true if the predator can pass along that message to other predators... it obviously cannot be true otherwise, since a dead predator can't kill any more of the same prey or create offspring that would kill the same prey.

In other words: in the absence of predator communication / learning, a dead predator is *strictly* better than a predator that has been "[hopefully] taught a lesson", even if the prey dies, because the prey's kin could benefit from there being one less predator in the area.

The article doesn't mention the what sort of communication/learning this would be, but it *does* mention, as an objection to the theory of Emsleyan/Mertensian mimicry, the possibility of learning via watching a conspecific die after an encounter with deadly prey.

So, for Emsleyan/Mertensian evolution to come about, we would need a model of predator learning where the predators are able to communicate to each other that a prey item isn't worth it (the less-deadly model organism) in a way that is somehow more efficient or impactful than predators watching each other die after an encounter with the more-deadly "mimic".

And I am having a very hard time imagining how this would happen. My first thought was of an altricial predator species, with a mother teaching her offspring what to avoid over a period of many years and many litters... except, wouldn't it be far better for the prey species for the mother to simply *die* ?

Death is better than lessons learned. No more offspring, plus any of her offspring that were watching her hunt would see her get hurt and die after messing with that particular prey item. That would surely be a pretty decent lesson, no?

I just can't see how a predator species could be social enough to pass along messages to each other about what's bad to eat, but not social enough to learn when someone dies after messing with the wrong critter.

Again, I'm looking for some expert input or preferably a scholarly source that explores this paradox, and the section should be rewritten to mention the crucial role of predator communication (which is strictly required for Emsleyan/Mertensian mimicry to emerge.)

As it currently stands, the section is not only misleadingly worded but I also simply do not see how Emsleyan/Mertensian mimicry could ever plausibly evolve.

Blue Rock (talk) 21:37, 24 May 2020 (UTC)

The article reports faithfully what scholars have written in reliable sources. It is not up to us to say we like or do not like what they wrote, that is for forbidden rightly as original research, WP:OR. Chiswick Chap (talk) 22:15, 24 May 2020 (UTC)
I very, very, very, very, very clearly suggested no such thing. I was very careful to specify what my goal was at both the start and the end of my comment. (I also observed that the given sources are not available online, thus cannot be easily verified.) Why haven't the admins banned trolls like you yet? At the very least, you are in violation of this . There really should be a more specific rule banning baseless accusations. Blue Rock (talk) 04:21, 25 May 2020 (UTC)
To clarify for the all the trolls and the functionally illiterate editors out there who TL;DRs their way past anything longer than a tweet: The section, as written, *IS* *MISLEADING* BECAUSE PREDATOR COMMUNICATION IS MENTIONED ONLY AS AN OBJECTION TO MERTENSIAN MIMICRY, not as an essential component to it, which it *must* be. This is basic logic: without predator communication/learning from conspecifics, a dead predator is *strictly* better than one that has been "taught a lesson".
I don't have access to the sources cited, so I can't write a better paraphrase myself, NOR WAS I PROPOSING TO. I WAS SPECIFICALLY ASKING IF ANYONE OUT THERE HAD A SOURCE OR AN EXPERT. You can personally disagree with my reasoning all day if you want, but the fact remains that the section is *objectively* incomplete because it completely fails to mention predator learning from conspecifics in the context of evolved Mertensian mimicry (it only mentions it as a possible objection to it.)
TL;DR: read the capital letters. Blue Rock (talk) 04:41, 25 May 2020 (UTC)

To flesh this out just a tiny bit more, just to be crystal clear to any good-faith editors out there:

The section specifically mentions that Mertensian mimicry can arise when there would be no advantage in aposematism evolving in the deadlier mimic, yet it fails to explain how a similar (mimicked) aposematism could be simultaneously advantageous to a similar but less deadly creature (the model) preyed upon by the same predator.

Just look at the section's own example: how could aposematism be evolutionarily beneficial to the less-deadly false coral snake, yet not beneficial (or significantly less so) for the deadlier coral snake? How could a wounded predator possibly be better than a dead one?

That is the question, and any answer to it seems like it must involve predator conspecific learning, somehow. Which the section *does* mention... but only as a potential objection to Mertensian mimicry scenarios arising (a predator watching a conspecific die), not as an integral part of it.

And it seems like this is a pretty major omission from the article. Not only is it a mystery how such learning would function, it would also imply all sorts of things, e.g. Mertensian mimicry not arising vs. predator species that were asocial.

I'm sure the scientists who came up with this stuff considered all of this, but alas I do not have access to a university library at this time, and I cannot verify that the original author of the section didn't make errors or omissions when paraphrasing the sources cited. I can only comment on what does and doesn't make sense, what is and is not consistent.

And the section, as written, does not make sense and is weirdly inconsistent in discussing the crucial role of predator conspecific learning. Blue Rock (talk) 06:49, 25 May 2020 (UTC)

Um, sorry you feel like that; but you are stating at great length that you don't like the section; I'm saying concisely that it's not up to you, me, or any editor to like or not like, but to use the published sources. You mention unavailable sources, which by definition we cannot use. We are allowed only to use what can be verified (WP:V is the policy) by other editors. Neither the article nor the talk page is to be used as a forum for discussing the science; the only function of the talk page is to suggest specific improvements to the article. Saying that the topic is difficult or the theory is wrong is not our business; the scientists may be mad or wrong, but they are what they are, and our sole duty is to report on their work. Everyone including you is free to improve the section from reliably published sources. We do not depend on the unpublished voices of "experts", only on what they have actually written in peer-reviewed journals, textbooks, and the like. If you think there are specific sources we should cite, name them and anyone can use them. You're welcome to contribute. Feel free.
The section is already rather long, and there is scope for a separate article on the topic. We should consider splitting it out, leaving (as is usual) a "main" link and a short cited summary here. Chiswick Chap (talk) 07:27, 25 May 2020 (UTC)

Subsidiary article[edit]

I've split out the Emsleyan / Mertensian discussion as a separate "Main" article, and have cut down the section here to an outline of the main points; it was indeed getting lost in a complex sub-discussion of exception or doubtful cases and alternative mechanisms, hardly ideal in an introductory overview. I hope the short summary here will be seen to be suitable as an overview of the theory.

Editors are invited to contribute to the new Emsleyan mimicry article. Chiswick Chap (talk) 08:57, 25 May 2020 (UTC)