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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

where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
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.
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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