Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 497–503 | Cite as

Coevolution, communication, and host chick mimicry in parasitic finches: who mimics whom?

  • Mark E. HauberEmail author
  • Rebecca M. Kilner


Why do brood parasitic Vidua nestlings mimic the intricate gape patterns of their hosts’ young so precisely? The classic explanation is that mimicry is the outcome of a coevolutionary arms race, driven by host rejection of odd-looking offspring. Selection favors parasitic nestlings that converge on the host young’s mouth markings, and simultaneously benefits hosts whose mouth markings diverge from those of the parasite. The outcome is highly elaborate mouth markings in host young that are accurately mimicked by parasite nestlings. Our review of recent work provides mixed support for this traditional view and, instead suggest that complex mouth markings function to stimulate adequate provisioning, rather than to signal species identity. Thus, similarly elaborate gape morphologies in hosts and parasites could have evolved through nestling competition for parental care. According to this view, and in contrast with existing hypotheses, it is host young that mimic parasitic offspring, in order to compete effectively for food.


Coevolution Indigobirds Parent–offspring conflict Sibling rivalry 



We thank M. Anderson, N. Davies, B. Gill, T. Grim, N. Langmore, N. Leuschner, C. Millar, J. Schuetz, M. Sorenson, R. Payne, and other anonymous referees for comments and discussion; V. Ward for help with the illustrations; and the New Zealand Marsden Fund, the National Geographic Society, and the University of Auckland Research Council for funding. R.M.K. was supported by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship and a Leverhulme Trust Research Grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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