Batesian mimicry describes a relationship between two organisms – where one that is harmless looks almost exactly like one that is harmful. In this lesson, you’ll learn about who discovered this relationship.
We’ll also explore examples of Batesian mimicry.
Batesian Mimicry Definition
Have you ever wondered how some animals avoid being eaten by their predators? Sometimes, animals have anti-predator adaptations that allow them to escape being eaten. One well-known anti-predator adaptation is Batesian mimicry. This describes a relationship where one organism that is harmless has evolved aposematic coloration that mimics a noxious species. A noxious species has some sort of harmful or damaging protection, and aposematic coloration is a distinctive warning marking that sets the noxious species apart and makes it easily identifiable.
By imitating a harmful species, the mimic can avoid predation.It’s useful to know about Batesian mimicry for a couple of different reasons. First, if you’re stuck in the wilderness and looking for something to eat, it’s good to know which animals or plants could make you sick by eating them.
The second, and this is probably the most important, has to do with venomous animals. There are several examples of venomous snakes that display Batesian mimicry. It’s always good to know which is the harmless species and which is the species that could really hurt you!
Dr. Henry Walter Bates was an English naturalist who introduced the world to the concept of mimicry. When he returned from his most famous expedition in the Amazon rainforest from 1848 to 1859, he brought back thousands of species, many of which had never been seen before. Dr.
Bates discovered that some species, which he knew not to be harmful when eaten, greatly resembled some species that he knew were toxic when eaten. Thus, the concept of Batesian mimicry, named for Dr. Bates, was born.
There are three excellent examples of Batesian mimicry that illustrate this concept well and explain a couple different scenarios when mimicry is helpful to the organism. The first focuses on two butterflies.
The monarch butterfly is poisonous when eaten, and the viceroy butterfly, the mimic, is not. Animals that eat butterflies, including birds, frogs, and toads, sense that the monarch butterfly is poisonous by its bright orange color. The viceroy butterfly takes advantage of this coloration to avoid being eaten!The second example is the poisonous coral snake and the king snake, which is the mimic. Coral snakes are quite venomous, and their bite is very dangerous to humans and other animals. King snakes, on the other hand, are harmless. While they don’t look exactly alike – the color patterns are slightly different – this is an example where animals steer clear of coral snakes to avoid being bitten and because the king snake has similar coloration, organisms will most likely stay away from this species as well!Here’s a simple way to tell the difference. There’s an old saying: ‘Red on black, friend of Jack; red on yellow, kill a fellow.
‘ Both coral and king snakes have red, black and yellow bands. On coral snakes, the red and yellow bands are adjacent, and in king snakes, the red and black bands are adjacent. So, if you see a snake and the red and black bands are right next to each other, you aren’t in any danger of a venomous bite!The third example is the hoverfly, the mimic, and honeybees, which have a well-known stinging capability. The hoverfly is a fly that feeds on nectar, just like bees, and has the same bright yellow and black markings of bees.
However, unlike its stinging counterpart, hoverflies are completely harmless. This is another example of an organism mimicking a venomous counterpart so predators leave it alone!
Dr. Henry Walter Bates was an English scientist who introduced the concept of Batesian mimicry. This concept describes a relationship where one organism that is harmless has evolved aposematic coloration that mimics a noxious species. Aposematic coloration is a distinctive set of warning markings, such as the monarch butterfly’s bright orange, white and black wings, that is often seen in noxious species, which are poisonous or otherwise harmful to predators.Species that use Batesian mimicry as an anti-predator adaptation have evolved to have colors and markings that are very similar to another species’ aposematic coloration. These mimic species, such as the viceroy butterfly and the king snake, are not actually poisonous, but they look enough like their poisonous twins, such as the monarch butterfly and coral snake, that predators typically leave them alone for fear of getting poisoned.
Batesian Mimicry: Terms & Definitions
|Terms & Examples||Definitions|
|Batesian mimicry||describes a relationship where one organism that is harmless has evolved aposematic coloration that mimics a noxious species|
|Noxious species||has some sort of harmful or damaging protection|
|Aposematic coloration||a distinctive warning marking that sets the noxious species apart and makes it easily identifiable; by imitating a harmful species, the mimic can avoid predation|
|Dr. Henry Walter Bates||an English naturalist who introduced the world to the concept of mimicry|
|Monarch/viceroy butterfly||The Monarch is poisonous when eaten but the viceroy butterfly, the mimic, is not|
|Coral snake/king snake||Coral snakes are quite venomous, king snakes are harmless; they don’t look exactly alike – the color patterns are slightly different|
|Honeybees/hoverfly||Honeybees have a well-known stinging capability while the hoverfly feeds on nectar, just like bees, and has the same bright yellow and black markings of bees but is harmless|
When this lesson is over, you will be able to:
- Define and describe Batesian mimicry
- Identify the scientist who discovered this type of mimicry
- Discuss examples of Batesian mimicry