Moths and Batesian mimicry, 1865

Moths and Batesian mimicry, 1865

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Credit: PAUL D STEWART/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Moths and Batesian mimicry. Historical collection of British moths mimicking stinging bees and wasps, with a British hornet at top right for comparison. Species displayed here include Sesia apiformis, Sesia bembeciformis, Synanthedon culiciformis, the broad-bordered bee hawkmoth (Hemaris fuciformis), the narrow-bordered bee hawkmoth (Hemaris tityus), and the true British hornet wasp (Vespa crabro). The Victorian naturalist Henry Walter Bates worked out that non-toxic or non-stinging insects can evolve to mimic toxic or stinging insects to gain protection from predators that avoid these insects. Bates worked primarily on tropical South American species, but the phenomenon is also found closer to home. Darwin was delighted with a process that appeared compatible with his theory of natural selection. Bees and wasps often look similar by a process known as Mullerian mimicry, generalising the negative search image for predators.

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