Predator Cognition Permits Imperfect Coral Snake Mimicry

  • Kikuchi D
  • Pfennig D
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Batesian mimicry is often imprecise. An underexplored explanation for imperfect mimicry is that predators might not be able to use all dimensions of prey phenotype to distinguish mimics from models and thus permit imperfect mimicry to persist. We conducted a field experiment to test whether or not predators can distinguish deadly coral snakes (Micrurus fulvius) from nonvenomous scarlet kingsnakes (Lampropeltis elapsoides). Although the two species closely resemble one another, the order of colored rings that encircle their bodies differs. Despite this imprecise mimicry, we found that L. elapsoides that match coral snakes in other respects are not under selection to match the ring order of their model. We suggest that L. elapsoides have evolved only those signals necessary to deceive predators. Generally, imperfect mimicry might suffice if it exploits limitations in predator cognitive abilities.

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  • David W. Kikuchi

  • David W. Pfennig

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