A mimic eats its model

This is another remarkable photograph—and biology lesson—from Alex Wild’s great website Myrmecos.  If you have any interest in nature photography or insects, it will pay you to bookmark it and check the site regularly.

There are many flies—as well as lepidopterans—that have evolved to resemble wasps and bees, fooling predators that have either evolved or learned to avoid that sting-inducing black-and-yellow pattern.  Such cases (and you should know this by now) are called Batesian mimicry, after the naturalist H. W. Bates, who first described the phenomenon whereby an edible species (the “mimic”) evolves to resemble a toxic, dangerous, or distasteful “model,” fooling the predator (the “signal receiver”) into avoiding the mimic.

Alex’s notes:

No, not a bee eating a bee. Even better! This is a bee-mimicking robber fly, Laphria, feeding on a honey bee. The fly casually alighted next to me in the garden this afternoon, as though it wanted to be photographed with a trophy kill.

Laphria is an exemplary bumble bee mimic. The flies not only look like bumble bees, they move and sound like them as well.

Laphria4

I was once fooled by a wasp-mimicking moth when I lived in Maryland. Seeing what looked like a stinging insect on the inside of my window, I carefully caught it with my Drosophila net. When I found out it was a mimic and not in the least dangerous, I was embarrassed!

Here’s a clear-winged moth from FotoLog; I’m not sure of the species, nor whether it’s the one I saw in Maryland, but the resemblance between members of two insect orders (Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera) is remarkable—look at those stripes!

Picture 2

16 Comments

  1. jesperbothpedersen1
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Moths are friggin’ awesome.

    They keep surprising me with their camouflage.

  2. Marella
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating.

  3. Mark Joseph
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    And the creationist explanation for this mimicry is… (sounds of mindless babbling are heard)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 28, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Because god loves doppelgangers :)

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted June 28, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      Well, atheist, you have a choice. Either the moth looked at the wasp and decided where to put those stripes, or goddit. Clearly the moth does not have enough intelligence to have figured this out so what does that leave you with?

      Alternatively; they are all the same ‘kind’ aren’t they? What else would you expect?

      /sounds of mindless babbling

      • Ted Kat
        Posted June 29, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Another explanation: if you look a bit like a mean wasp, your chances to survive are a little higher. In every generations, wasp-like moths survive better than other moths. After many generation, you have a wasp most perfect replica.

  4. marksolock
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  5. Posted June 28, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Politicians are very much like insects.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      Now, now, no insect slurs, please.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted June 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      Hexapodal with chitinous exoskeletons, often with one or two pairs of wings. You have strange politicians where you live.

      They are not by any chance, currently your overlords and bent on world domination? Or can you say?

  6. Posted June 28, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Professor Coyne, please explain how this happens and/or recommend relevant scholarship on mimicry. I am as fascinated as I am perplexed by it. Thanks in advance.

  7. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    If it is not too much trouble for you, type Batesian into Wikipedia. Otherwise just click here

  8. tony bryant
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Prior to the Fall of Man, all creatures would have eaten only vegetable matter. Therefore predatory insects musthave……………….evolved?

    • microraptor
      Posted June 29, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      No, they just changed diets.

      Previously, they used their mandibles to crack open coconuts.


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