, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 39–55 | Cite as

The Mechanism for Mimicry: Instant Biosemiotic Selection or Gradual Darwinian Fine-Tuning Selection?

  • V. N. AlexanderEmail author


Biological mimicry is regarded by many as a textbook illustration of Darwin’s idea of evolution by random mutation followed by differential selection of reproductively fit specimens, resulting in gradual phenotypic change in a population. In this paper, I argue that some cases of so-called mimicry are probably merely look-a-likes and do not gain an advantage due to their similarity in appearance to something else. In cases where a similar appearance does provide a benefit, I argue that it is possible that these forms of mimicry were created in a single generation. An interpretive response to an appearance as a sign can make a new structure perform drastically differently in an environment. In such cases, Darwin’s natural selection mechanism only helps to explain gradual the spread of these new forms, not the creation of them. I argue that biosemiosis should be regarded as a much more powerful mechanism for affecting evolutionary trajectories than the gradualist view allows. I focus on two cases of butterfly mimicry: the Viceroy (Nymphalidae: Limenitis archippus) and Monarch (Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippus) butterflies, supposed Müllerian mimics, and deadleaf mimic butterflies (Kallima).


Saltationism Turing patterns Mimicry Pattern formation Genus Kallima Mimicry skepticism H. F. Nijhout 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dactyl FoundationNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Fulbright Specialist Program, U.S. Department of StateBureau of Educational and Cultural AffairsWashingtonUSA

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