In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mimicry

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Defining Mimicry
  • Taxonomic Distribution
  • Historical Background
  • Müllerian Mimicry
  • Functions of Mimetic Signals
  • Multimodal Mimicry
  • Imperfect Mimicry
  • Genetics of Mimicry
  • Polymorphic and Sex-Limited Mimicry
  • Role in Speciation
  • Influence of Receiver Perception

Ecology Mimicry
David W. Kikuchi, David W. Pfennig
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0027


Among nature’s most exquisite adaptations are examples in which natural selection has favored a species (the mimic) to resemble a second, often unrelated species (the model) because it confuses a third species (the receiver). For example, the individual members of a nontoxic species that happen to resemble a toxic species may dupe any predators by behaving as if they are also dangerous and should therefore be avoided. In this way, adaptive resemblances can evolve via natural selection. When this phenomenon—dubbed “mimicry”—was first outlined by Henry Walter Bates in the middle of the 19th century, its intuitive appeal was so great that Charles Darwin immediately seized upon it as one of the finest examples of evolution by means of natural selection. Even today, mimicry is often used as a prime example in textbooks and in the popular press as a superlative example of natural selection’s efficacy. Moreover, mimicry remains an active area of research, and studies of mimicry have helped illuminate such diverse topics as how novel, complex traits arise; how new species form; and how animals make complex decisions.

General Overviews

Since Henry Walter Bates first published his theories of mimicry in 1862 (see Bates 1862, cited under Historical Background), there have been periodic reviews of our knowledge in the subject area. Cott 1940 is mainly concerned with animal coloration. Subsequent reviews, such as Edmunds 1974 and Ruxton, et al. 2004, have focused on types of mimicry associated with defense from predators. Turner 2005 provides a brief, accessible overview. Kikuchi and Pfennig 2013 reviews the phenomenon of imperfect mimicry, and many of the principles in that manuscript apply to mimicry in general.

  • Cott, Hugh B. 1940. Adaptive coloration in animals. London: Methuen.

    Cott’s book is a frequent reference source among researchers studying mimicry, camouflage, and other types of coloration. This book is best for advanced graduate students and professionals looking for detailed information on historical hypotheses, and for those seeking a broad survey of animal coloration.

  • Edmunds, Malcolm. 1974. Defence in animals: A survey of anti-predator defenses. Burnt Mill, UK: Longman.

    Edmunds’s book represents a different way of viewing mimicry: as an anti-predator defense strategy, rather than simply one of many uses for animal coloration. This book will serve advanced graduate students and professionals who seek the perspective of an influential scholar in the area.

  • Kikuchi, David W., and David W. Pfennig. 2013. Imperfect mimicry and the limits of natural selection. Quarterly Review of Biology 88:279–315.

    DOI: 10.1086/673758

    This review describes recent work in the field of mimicry, much of which has focused on explaining why mimics often imperfectly resemble their models. Both theoretical hypotheses and empirical work that tests them are included.

  • Ruxton, Graeme D., Thomas N. Sherratt, and Michael P. Speed. 2004. Avoiding attack: The evolutionary ecology of crypsis, warning signals and mimicry. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198528609.001.0001

    This book is the definitive reference for researchers interested in all types of protective resemblance, and it includes a chapter on aggressive mimicry. It should serve as the starting place for anyone interested in mimicry.

  • Turner, J. R. G. 2005. Mimicry. In Encyclopedia of life sciences, Vol. 12. Edited by Alessandro Finazzi-Agrò, 1–9. New York: John Wiley.

    A brief account of mimicry accessible to a general scholarly audience.

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