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Mimicry, at its most basic, is copying the form, color, or behavior of another species. There is an issue with this phenomenon that often the two or more species in a mimetic system are not closely related at all, which begs the question, evolutionarily speaking, of why these similar forms or behaviors evolve in multiple different groups and species if not from common ancestry? Snakes are a good model for researching and learning about mimetic systems because many types of mimicry are found within the sub-order. Theory states that there are three general strategies of mimicry: defensive, aggressive, and sexual mimicry. According to theory, defensive mimicry is copying another species in order to be less likely preyed upon by another individual and therefore increase survivability. An increase in survivability directly relates to an increase in fitness because the individual will live to have more opportunities to mate. Aggressive mimicry also increases an individual’s fitness by increasing its chances to survive to mate more, but is focused on the capture of prey instead of defense against predators. Sexual mimicry directly increases the individual’s fitness in terms of increasing the number of copulations it participates in.

Author: Michael Schiff


Biological studies today are done under a lens of the theory of evolution by natural selection. This means that populations change over time because the ratios of specific genes within individuals change through time as the environment around that population changes, and that these changes make the individuals in the population better able, in some way, to pass their genes on to the next generation. This leads to the understanding that most genes that are actually expressed in a given individual should generally be adaptive to that individual’s environment because the maladaptive genes would have been outperformed by the adaptive ones through time. Traits can be adaptive in two general ways: either by A) directly increasing the organism’s reproductive success or B) increasing its survivability, which generally leads to an increase in reproductive success. Mimicry is most often adaptive in the latter sense, i.e. that it increases the individual’s chance to survive long enough to reproduce one or more times. For example, a bull snake looking like a rattlesnake increases its survivability because predators are less likely to eat something that looks like a venomous rattlesnake. There is seemingly a contradiction here though, as many forms of mimicry make the organism more susceptible to predation via loud colors or conspicuous displays, such as a king snake mimicking a coral snake. So why should mimicry have evolved in the first place?

Coral snake mimicry

The System: There are many species of coral snakes and similarly colored/patterned snakes throughout the tropical and temperate parts of North and South America. Several are extremely venomous, some mildly venomous, and many are non-venomous.

The Story: When Batesian mimicry was first described, coral snakes and their supposed mimics were often used as seemingly obvious examples. Many non-venomous species seem to suffer less predation due to having similarly colored bands along their bodies as do true coral snakes. However, as more research was performed, the system showed itself to be more complex. In 1878, Fritz Muller suggested another type of mimicry system, Mullerian mimicry (Wickler 1968). This mimicry is basically the same idea as Batesian mimicry except that it extends to mutual mimicry of different venomous species. In short, multiple dangerous species mutually benefit by mimicking each other because it gives each individual less chance of being a "mistake" a predator attacks before learning not to attack species with that pattern because they are venomous. This seemed to apply readily to coral snakes because several of their mimics are also venomous. But then herpetologist Robert Mertens came along and suggested that this is still partly incorrect because the true coral snakes have such potent venom that would-be predators would not survive a defensive bite. Therefore he suggested that it is actually the mildly venomous snakes that are being mimicked by both the true coral snakes and the non-venomous species. This was later labeled as Mertensian mimicry It should however also be noted that many newer studies suggest the similar patterns and coloration of these species to be due to similar environmental factors, not mimicry at all (Herrera, Smith,&Chiszar 1981), and that predators may not avoid true coral snakes at all (Beckers , Leenders&Strijbosch 1996a).

Questions & Answers

Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Mockingbird tales: readings in animal behavior. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11211/1.5
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