Now fully into the swing of summer, we are seeing some of the life returning that is synonymous with this season. The most prevalent of these is the return of the migrant bird species but along with this comes a myriad of other species including various insects and butterflies. In this blog, I want to take a look at some of the amazing ways that some of these species use mimicry for their survival.
Essentially mimicry is when one species tries to resemble another species that is easily recognizable with the intention of trying to deceive a potential predator. Bear in mind that this does not only pertain to physical appearance but also to sounds that specific animals make to deceive another, with the sole purpose of its survival. Within nature, there are various types of mimicry but I will be focusing on the three main types of mimicry.
This takes place when a nontoxic species, who could be easily preyed upon, resembles a toxic species. The most common example of Batesian mimicry that springs to mind is the resemblance of the female Common Diadem butterfly to the African Monarch butterfly. The African Monarch butterfly feeds on a number of plants with toxic properties such as various milkweed species or string of stars, which are extremely high in toxins making them poisonous to potential predators. In turn, the female Common Diadem butterfly has taken on a similar colouration and patterning that resembles the African Monarch, making it unappealing to potential predators.
This occurs when two or more species develop similar characteristics or patterns with regard to patterns and colours. This type of mimicry can be extremely advantageous to species that portray this type of mimicry as predators will quickly learn to avoid them due to distaste and potential harm that can be caused. In this case, both species are unpalatable or dangerous. Different species of bees are great examples of Mullerian Mimicry, as several of these species possess aposematic colouration being the yellow and black barring, warning species that they are harmful and in the case of bees they possess a venomous sting.
This type of mimicry differs slightly from Batesian and Mullerian mimicry in the fact that instead of certain species resembling other species, the self-mimic will have a target on an area of the body that is less threatening. Typically when a predator attacks its prey it will do so by attacking prominent features such as the head. Species that have adopted self-mimicry as a defence mechanism will often have markings that resemble eyes or antennas on parts of their body that they can survive without, such as on the tip of their wings. Various species of butterflies use self-mimicry. They have a far better chance of surviving an attempted attack on a wing than they do with an attack to the head.
One specific type of mimicry that I find extremely fascinating is a type of bird that has the amazing ability to mimic several different bird calls. The Fork-tailed Drongo will mimic several alarm calls that birds make in an attempt to trick other species to abandon any food they have just caught so that the Drongo can swoop in and get an easy meal. There have been records of Drongos using up to 45 different alarm calls of different species in an attempt to try and steal food from other species.
It amazes me how certain species have adapted over many many years to increase their chances of survival. The idea behind mimicry is truly astounding, next time you are on safari have a closer look, especially at various insect species, and you’ll be sure to see mimicry in some shape or form.