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).
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Such mimicry comes in various forms, Müllerian Convergence, Batesian-Müllerian spectrum, quasi-Batesian mimicry, arithmetic mimicry or auto mimicry, and may involve an edibility spectrum from palatable to highly noxious, and palatability may be affected by food sources. See Maran (2015).
The misinterpretation of a mimic as a sign may also be made by potential mate, as in the case of wasp-mimicking orchids, or by potential prey, as in the case of the live bait-mimicking angler fish.
Whether or not Turing patterns and the equations used to describe them were equivalent to the equations that could describe biological patterns was a subject of debate and doubt for many years. Sheth et al. (2012) has finally provided evidence of a hypothetical Turing system involving Hox genes, and Raspopovic et al. (2014) confirms Sheth et al. (2012) revealing which signaling molecules act as the Turing system.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdpXvAc7GTI30 seconds (same butterfly as above)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCGnaas5XdM&t=189s4 min 39 seconds
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Alexander, V.N. The Mechanism for Mimicry: Instant Biosemiotic Selection or Gradual Darwinian Fine-Tuning Selection?. Biosemiotics 12, 39–55 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-019-09349-9
- Turing patterns
- Pattern formation
- Genus Kallima
- Mimicry skepticism
- H. F. Nijhout