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Batesian Mimicry: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:00 Batesian Mimicry Definition
  • 1:10 Background
  • 1:40 Examples
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Enzor

Laura has a Master's degree in Biology and is working on her PhD in Biology. She specializes in teaching Human Physiology at USC.

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!

Background

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.

Examples

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!

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