Mimicry  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In evolutionary biology, mimicry, also sometimes known as mimetism, is the similarity of one species to another which protects one or both. This similarity can be in appearance, behaviour, sound, scent and location, with the mimics found in similar places to their models.

Mimicry occurs when a group of organisms, the mimics, evolve to share common perceived characteristics with another group, the models. The evolution is driven by the selective action of a signal-receiver, or dupe. For example, birds that use sight to identify palatable insects (the mimics), whilst avoiding the noxious models.

Collectively, this situation 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 like the common predator of two species, but may actually be the model itself, such as a moth resembling its spider predator. 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 a particular model.

Camouflage, in which a species resembles its surroundings, is essentially a form of visual mimicry. 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. The lack of a true distinction between the two phenomena can be seen in animals that resemble twigs, bark, leaves or flowers, in that they are often classified as camouflaged (a plant constitutes its "surroundings"), but are sometimes classified as mimics (a plant is also an organism).

Though visual mimicry is most obvious to humans, other senses such as olfaction (smell) or hearing may be involved, and more than one type of signal may be employed. 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. It should not be confused with convergent evolution, which occurs when species come to resemble one another independently by adapting to similar lifestyles.

Mimics may have different models for different life cycle stages, 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, but mimicry of vastly different species is also known. Most known mimics are insects, though many other animal mimics including mammals are known. Plants and fungi may also be mimics, though less research has been carried out in this area.


See also

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.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mimicry" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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