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Batesian mimicry and aposematism

  1. Nov 11, 2017 #1
    Hi everyone

    Could someone please explain to me how aposematic coloration (and Batesian mimicry of those colours) on poisonous species helps that species survive? This makes sense to me if the predator in question is human, since humans are able to learn and pass on knowledge from generation to generation that certain colours indicate danger. However, are other animals able to know (and pass on knowledge) that aposematic colours signal danger so that they avoid eating those species?

    If not, I'd imagine that a predator would eat a poisonous plant or animal and simply die, which limits the usefulness of poison to the reduction of the predator species by one for each member of the prey species eaten. I suppose this is still better than having no poison, but it leads me to my next question: how does mimicking a poisonous species help the mimic survive? If the mimic is not poisonous, wouldn't a predator keep eating that members of that species until it eventually ate the poisonous model and died?

    This is to be contrasted with species that taste foul. A predator might eat a foul-tasting plant/animal and learn to never eat it again. Mimicking a foul-tasting species makes sense, since it takes advantage of the experiences of animals who've eaten the foul-tasting model.

    I'm basing my questions on the assumption that animals have no way of associating aposematic coloring with poison (without dying in the process). Is this a valid assumption? Or would predators evolve so that those that somehow have an instinct to avoid aposematic colours are the ones that survive and pass on this trait to their progeny? I.e. Aposematic colouring is a way of manipulating the evolution of the predator species.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2017 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    Staff: Mentor

    Here is one explanation(hypothesis) - extremely visible coloration reinforces learning in predators really rapidly. You are focused on a single prey item. Focus instead on a population. In fact poison arrow frogs species are generally not 100% fatal when bitten - note that poisons like that have horribly nasty effects on the mouth. So not every first taster swallows and dies.

    Just like skunk spray has horrible effects on eyes and mouth. So every coyote ignores every skunk it sees except the first one it has ever seen.


    Excellent explanation for non-Biologists - read this one first:
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2017
  4. Nov 11, 2017 #3
    Cheers. Thanks
  5. Nov 18, 2017 #4


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    Homework Helper
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    It pays to advertise! We all know not to eat nice-looking red mushrooms.

    Mathematical modelling like that quoted must go back much earlier. I remember a seminar about some insects with this warning colouration that protected them from being eaten by birds when the latter had learned to associate the colour with disgusting taste. Then later in the season other imitative insects came along with similar colouration that protected them from being eaten by the now wised-up birds, but they didn't need to go to the trouble of secreting the disgusting substances.
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