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{{Commonscat|Animals by color}}
{{Commonscat|Animals by color}}
*[[Ultraviolet]] and [[visible spectrum]]
*[[Animal courtship displays]]
*[[Animal courtship displays]]
*[[Animal defensive behaviour]]
*[[Animal defensive behaviour]]
*[[Ultraviolet]] and [[visible spectrum]]

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Animal colouration or animal coloration has been a topic of interest and research in biology for well over a century. Colours may be cryptic (functioning as an adaptation allowing the prevention of prey detection; aposematic (functioning as a warning of unprofitability) or may be the result of sexual selection. Colouration may also be function in mimicry of other organisms. The subject may be investigated in terms of both the chemical and physical basis of the colours (proximate cause) and the evolution of colouration (ultimate cause).

Camouflage is generally viewed as the result of natural selection, and involves an organism's colour blending in with its biotic (e.g. moss) or abiotic (e.g. sand) surroundings. Camouflage is often accompanied by behavioral adaptations that make the most of it, such as landing on areas of similar colour, and aligning the body correctly. It may involve costs as well as benefits, such as the cost of finding an suitable resting spot. Colour may change during the seasons, during an organism's life cycle, or even over very brief intervals, such as with the chameleon. Polymorphism may also occur, allowing individuals of the same species to have different camouflage, and making prey detection more difficult for predators. Organisms living in the same environment may come to have similar colouration through convergent evolution. Colours are an aspect of only one of the senses, and although the visual system is most important for humans, some animals cannot even see (such as those living in caves, underground, in the deep sea, or those active at night) and their colour may be of little or no adaptive value. These organisms rely primarily on other senses, such as olfaction and hearing, and even electroreception.


Zebra Botswana edit
Chapman's Zebras in Botswana
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Main article: Camouflage

Cryptic colouration has evolved in many species that have been subjected to the pressures of predation and also in predatory species. Such colours help predators (aggressive resemblance or anticryptic colouring) and prey (protective resemblance or procryptic colouring). Protective resemblance is far commoner among animals than aggressive resemblance, in correspondence with the fact that predaceous forms are as a rule much larger and much less numerous than their prey. In the case of insectivorous vertebratates and their prey such differences exist in an exaggerated form. Cryptic colouring, whether used for defence or attack, may be either general or special. In general resemblance the animal, in consequence of its colouring, produces the same effect as its environment, but the conditions do not require any special adaptation of shape and outline. General resemblance is especially common among the animals inhabiting some uniformly coloured expanse of the earths surface, such as an ocean or a desert. In the former, animals of all shapes are frequently protected by their transparent blue colour; on the latter, equally diverse forms are defended by their sandy appearance. The effect of a uniform appearance may be produced by a combination of tints in startling contrast. Thus the black and white stripes of the zebra blend together at a little distance, and their proportion is such as exactly to match the pale tint which arid ground possesses when seen by moonlight (F Galton, South Africa, London, 1889).

Special resemblance is far commoner than general, and is the form which is usually met with on the diversified surface of the earth, on the shores, and in shallow water, as well as on the floating masses of algae on the surface of the ocean, such as the Sargasso Sea. In these environments the cryptic colouring of animals is usually aided by special modifications of shape, and by the instinct which leads them to assume particular attitudes. Complete stillness and the assumption of a certain attitude play an essential part in general resemblance on land; but in special resemblance the attitude is often highly specialized, and perhaps more important than any other element in the complex method by which concealment is effected. In special resemblance the combination of colouring, shape and attitude is such as to produce a more or less exact resemblance to some one of the objects in the environment, such as a leaf or twig, a patch of lichen, or flake of bark. In all cases the resemblance is to some object which is of no interest to the enemy or prey respectively. The animal is not hidden from view by becoming indistinguishable from its background, as in the cases of general resemblance, but it is mistaken for some well-known object.

In the past these effects were explained as a result of the direct influence of the environment upon the individual (GLL Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon), or by the inherited effects of effort and the use and disuse of parts (JEP Jean-Baptiste Lamarck), but natural selection, which can accumulate any and every variation which tends towards survival, has been the accepted explanation now for almost a century. A few of the chief types of methods by which concealment is effected may be briefly described. The colours of large numbers of vertebrate animals are darkest on the back, and become gradually lighter on the sides, passing into white on the belly. Abbott Handerson Thayer (The Auk, vol. xiii., 1896) has suggested that this gradation obliterates the appearance of solidity, which is due to shadow.

The colour-harmony, which is also essential to concealment, is produced because the back is of the same tint as the environment (e.g. earth) bathed in the cold blue-white of the sky, while the belly, being cold blue-white bathed in shadow and yellow earth reflections, produces the same effect. Thayer has made models (in the natural history museums at London, Oxford and Cambridge) which support his interpretation in a very convincing manner. This method of neutralizing shadow for the purpose of concealment by increased lightness of tint was first suggested by EB Poulton in the case of a larva (Trans. Ent. Soc. Loud., 1887, p. 294) and a pupa (Trans. Ent. Soc. Loud., 1888, pp. 596, 597), but he did not appreciate the great importance of the principle. In an analogous method an animal in front of a background of dark shadow may have part of its body obliterated by the existence of a dark tint, the remainder resembling, e.g., a part of a leaf (W Müller, Zool. Jahr. JW Spengel, Jena, 1886).

Orange oak leaf bottom
A camouflaged Orange Oak Leaf butterfly (center)
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This method of rendering invisible any part which would interfere with the resemblance is well known in mimicry. A common aid to concealment is the adoption by different individuals of two or more different appearances, each of which resembles some special object to which an enemy is indifferent. Thus the leaf-like butterflies (Kallima) present various types of colour and pattern on the under side of the wings, each of which closely resembles some well-known appearance presented by a dead leaf; and the common British yellow under-wing moth (Tryphaena pronuba) is similarly polymorphic on the upper side of its upper wings, which are exposed as it suddenly drops among dead leaves. Caterpillars and pupae are also commonly dimorphic, green and brown. Such differences as these extend the area which an enemy is compelled to search in order to make a living. In many cases the cryptic colouring changes appropriately during the course of an individual life, either seasonally, as in the ptarmigan or Alpine hare, or according as the individual enters a new environment in the course of its growth (such as larva, pupa, imago, etc.). In insects with more than one brood in the year, seasonal dimorphism is often seen, and the differences are sometimes appropriate to the altered condition of the environment as the seasons change. The causes of change in these and Arctic animals are insufficiently worked out: in both sets there are observations or experiments which indicate changes from within the organism, merely following the seasons and not caused by them, and other observations or experiments which prove that certain species are susceptible to the changing external influences. In certain species concealment is effected by the use of adventitious objects, which are employed as a covering. Examples of this allocryptic defence are found in the tubes of the caddis fly larvae (Trichoptera), or the objects made use of by crabs of the genera Hyas, Stenorhynchus, etc. Such animals are concealed in any environment. If sedentary, like the former example, they are covered up with local materials; if wandering, like the latter, they have the instinct to reclothe. Allocryptic methods may also be used for aggressive purposes, as the ant-lion larva, almost buried in sand, or the large frog Ceratophrys, which covers its back with earth when waiting for its prey. Another form of allocryptic defence is found in the use of the colour of the food in the digestive organs showing through the transparent body, and in certain cases the adventitious colour may be dissolved in the blood or secreted in superficial cells of the body: thus certain insects make use of the chlorophyll of their food (Poulton, Proc. Roy. Soc. liv. 417). The most perfect cryptic powers are possessed by those animals in which the individuals can change their colours into any tint which would be appropriate to a normal environment. This power is widely prevalent in fish, and also occurs in Amphibia and Reptilia (the chameleon affording a well-known example). Analogous powers exist in certain Crustacea and Cephalopoda. All these rapid changes of colour are due to changes in shape or position of superficial pigment cells controlled by the nervous system. That the latter is itself stimulated by light through the medium of the eye and optic nerve has been proved in many cases. Animals with a short life-history passed in a single environment, which, however, may be very different in the case of different individuals, may have a different form of variable cryptic colouring, namely, the power of adapting their colour once for all (many pupae), or once or twice (many larvae). In these cases the effect appears to be produced through the nervous system, although the stimulus of light probably acts on the skin and not through the eyes. Particoloured surfaces do not produce particoloured pupae, probably because the antagonistic stimuli neutralize each other in the central nervous system, which then disposes the superficial colours so that a neutral or intermediate effect is produced over the whole surface (Poulton, Trans. Ent. Soc. Lond., 1892, p. 293).

Cryptic colouring may incidentally produce superficial resemblances between animals; thus desert forms concealed in the same way may gain a likeness to each other, and in the same way special resemblances, e.g. to lichen, bark, grasses, pine-needles, etc., may sometimes lead to a tolerably close similarity between the animals which are thus concealed. Such, likeness may be called syncryptic or common protective (or aggressive) resemblance, and it is to be distinguished from mimicry and common warning colours, in which the likeness is not incidental, but an end in itself. Syncryptic resemblances have much in common with those incidentally caused by functional adaptation, such as the mole-like forms produced in the burrowing Insectivora, Rodentia and Marsupialia. Such likeness may be called syntechnic resemblance, incidentally produced by dynamic similarity, just as syncryptic resemblance is produced by static similarity.

Warning and signalling (semantic colours)

Further information: Warning colouration
Micrurus tener
A venomous coral snake.
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Warning colouration is the exact opposite of that which has been just described, its function being to render the animal conspicuous to its enemies, so that it can be easily seen, well remembered, and avoided in future.

Warning colours are associated with some quality or weapon which renders the possessor unpleasant or dangerous, such as unpalatability, an evil odour, a sting, the poison-fang, etc. The object being to warn an enemy off, these colours are also called aposematic. Recognition markings, on the other hand, are episematic, assisting the individuals of the same species to keep together when their safety depends upon numbers, or easily to follow each other to a place of safety, the young and inexperienced benefiting by the example of the older. Episematic characters are far less common than aposematic, and these than cryptic; although, as regards the latter comparison, the opposite impression is generally produced from the very fact that concealment is so successfully attained. Warning or aposematic colours, together with the qualities they indicate, depend, as a rule, for their very existence upon the abundance of palatable food supplied by the animals with cryptic colouring (the models). Unpalatability, or even the possession of a sting, is not sufficient defence unless there is enough food of another kind to be obtained at the same time and place (Poulton, Proc. Zool. Soc., 1887, p. 191). Hence insects with warning colours are not seen in temperate countries except at the time when insect life as a whole is most abundant; and in warmer countries, with well-marked wet and dry seasons, it will probably be found that warning colours are proportionately less developed in the latter. In many species of African butterflies belonging to the genus Junonia (including Precis) the wet-season broods are distinguished by the more or less conspicuous under sides of the wings, those of the dry season being highly cryptic. Warning colours are, like cryptic, assisted by special adaptations of the body-form, and especially by movements which assist to render the colour as conspicuous as possible. On this account animals with warning colours generally move or fly slowly, and it is the rule in butterflies that the warning patterns are similar on both upper and under sides of the wings. Many animals, when attacked or disturbed, sham death (as it is commonly but wrongly described), falling motionless to the ground. In the case of well-concealed animals this instinct gives them a second chance of escape in the earth or among the leaves, etc., when they have been once detected; animals with warning colours are, on the other hand, enabled to assume a position in which their characters are displayed to the full (J. Portschinsky, Lepidopterorum Rossiae Biologia, St Petersburg, 1890, plate i. figs. 16, 17). In both cases a definite attitude is assumed, which is not that of death. Other warning characters exist in addition to colouring: thus sound is made use of by the disturbed rattlesnake and the Indian Ec/jis, etc. Large birds, when attacked, often adopt a threatening attitude, accompanied by a terrifying sound. The cobra warns an intruder chiefly by attitude and the dilation of the flattened neck, the effect being heightened in some species by the spectacles. In such cases we often see the combination of cryptic and sematic methods, the animal being concealed until disturbed, when it instantly assumes an aposematic attitude. The advantage to the animal itself is clear: a poisonous snake gains nothing by killing an animal it cannot eat; while the poison does not cause immediate death, and the enemy would have time to injure or destroy the snake. In the case of small unpalatable animals with warning colours the enemies would only first become aware of the unpleasant quality by tasting and often destroying their prey; but kin of the organism killed may gain by the experience thus conveyed, even though the individual might suffer. An insect-eating animal does not come into the world with knowledge: it has to learn by experience, and warning colours enable this education as to what to avoid to be gained by a small instead of a large waste of life. Furthermore, great tenacity of life is usually possessed by animals with warning colours. The tissues of aposematic insects generally possess great elasticity and power of resistance, so that large numbers of individuals can recover after very severe treatment.

The brilliant warning colours of many caterpillars attracted the attention of Charles Darwin when he was thinking over his hypothesis of sexual selection, and he wrote to AR Wallace on the subject (C Darwin, Life and Letters, London, 1887, uI. 93). Wallace, in reply, suggested their interpretation as warning colours, a suggestion since verified by experiment (Proc. Ent. Soc. Lond., 1867, p. lxxx; Trans. Ent. Soc. Loud., 1869, pp. 21 and 27). Although animals with warning colours are probably but little attacked by the ordinary enemies of their class, they have special enemies which keep the numbers down to the average. Thus the cuckoo appears to be an insectivorous bird which will freely devour conspicuously coloured unpalatable larvae. The effect of the warning colours of caterpillars is often intensified by gregarious habits. Another aposematic use of colours and structures is to divert attention from the vital parts, and thus give the animal attacked an extra chance of escape. The large, conspicuous, easily torn wings of butterflies and moths act in this way, as is found by the abundance of individuals which may be captured with notches bitten symmetrically out of both wings when they were in contact. The eye-spots and tails so common on the hinder part of the hind wing, and the conspicuous apex so frequently seen on the fore wing, probably have this meaning. Their position corresponds to the parts which are most often found to be notched. In some cases (e.g. many Lycaenidae) the tail and eye-spot combine to suggest the appearance of a head with antennae at the posterior end of the butterfly, the deception being aided by movements of the hind wings (see automimicry). The flat-topped tussocks of hair on many caterpillars look like conspicuous fleshy projections of the body, and they are held prominently when the larva is attacked. If seized, the tussock comes out, and the enemy is greatly inconvenienced by the fine branched hairs. The tails of lizards, which easily break off, are to be similarly explained, the attention of the pursuer being probably still further diverted by the extremely active movements of the amputated member. Certain crabs similarly throw off their claws when attacked, and the claws continue to snap most actively. The tail of the dormouse, which easily comes off, and the extremely bushy tail of the squirrel, are probably of use in the same manner. Animals with warning colours often tend to resemble each other superficially.

This fact was first pointed out by Henry W. Bates in his paper on the theory of mimicry (Trans. Linn. Soc. vol. xxiii., 1862, p. 495). He showed that the conspicuous, presumably unpalatable, tropical American butterflies, belonging to very different groups, which are mimicked by others, also tend to resemble each other, the likeness being often remarkably exact. These resemblances were not explained by his theory of mimicry, and he could only suppose that they had been produced by the direct influence of a common environment. The problem was solved in 1879 by Fritz Müller (see Proc. Ent. Soc. Lond., 1879, p. xx.), who suggested that life is saved by this resemblance between warning colours, inasmuch as the education of young inexperienced enemies is facilitated. Each species which falls into a group with common warning (synaposematic) colours contributes to save the lives of the other members. It is sufficiently obvious that the amount of learning and remembering, and consequently of injury and loss of life involved in the process, are reduced when many species in one place possess the same aposematic colouring, instead of each exhibiting a different danger-signal. These resemblances are often described as Mullerian mimicry, as distinguished from true or Batesian mimicry described in the next section. Similar synaposematic resemblances between the specially protected groups of butterflies were afterwards shown to exist in tropical Asia, the East Indian Islands and Polynesia by F Moore (Proc. Zool. Soc., 1883, p. 201), and in Africa by EB Poulton (Report Brit. Assoc., 1897, p. 688). R Meldola (Ann. and Mag. Nat. Hist. X., 1882, p. 417) first pointed out and explained in the same manner the remarkable general uniformity of colour and pattern which runs through so many species of each of the distasteful groups of butterflies; while, still later, Poulton (Proc. Zool. Soc., 1887, p. 191) similarly extended the interpretation to the synaposematic resemblances between animals of all kinds in the same country. Thus, for example, longitudinal or circular bands of the same strongly contrasted colours are found in species of many groups with distant affinities.

Certain animals, especially the Crustacea, make use of the special defence and warning colours of other animals. Thus the English hermit-crab, Pa gurus Bernhardus, commonly carries the sea-anemone, Sagartia parasitica, on its shell; while another English species, Pagurus Pridauxii, inhabits a shell which is invariably clothed by the flattened Adamsia palliata.

The white patch near the tail which is frequently seen in the gregarious ungulates, and is often rendered conspicuous by adjacent black markings, probably assists the individuals in keeping together; and appearances with probably the same interpretation are found in many birds. The white upturned tail of the rabbit is probably of use in enabling the individuals to follow each other readily. The difference between a typical aposematic character appealing to enemies, and episematic intended for other individuals of the same species, is well seen when we compare such examples as (1) the huge banner-like white tail, conspicuously contrasted with the black or black and white body, by which the slow-moving skunk warns enemies of its power of emitting an intolerably offensive odour; (2) the small upturned white tail of the rabbit, only seen when it is likely to be of use and when the owner is moving, and, if pursued, very rapidly moving, towards safety.

Mimicry or pseudo-sematic colours

Further information: Mimicry, sexual selection
Some hawk-cuckoos resemble sparrow-hawks.
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The fact that animals with distant affinities may more or less closely resemble each other was observed long before the existing explanation was possible. Its recognition is implied in a number of insect names with the termination -formis, usually given to species of various orders which more or less closely resemble the stinging hymenoptera. The usefulness of the resemblance was suggested in Kirby and Spences Introduction to Entomology, London, 1817, ii. 223. HW Bates (Trans. Linn. Soc. vol. XXiII., 1862, p. 495) first proposed an explanation of mimicry based on the theory of natural selection. He supposed that every step in the formation and gradual improvement of the likeness occurred in consequence of its usefulness in the struggle for life. The subject is of additional interest, inasmuch as it was one of the first attempts to apply the theory of natural selection to a large class of phenomena up to that time well known but unexplained. Numerous examples of mimicry among tropical American butterflies were discussed by Bates in his paper; and in 1866 Wallace extended the hypothesis to the butterflies of the tropical East (Trans. Linn, Soc. vol. xxv., 1866, p. 19); Roland Trimen (Trans. Linn. Soc. vol. xxvi., 1870, p. 497) to those of Africa in 1870. The term mimicry is used in various senses. It is often extended, as indeed it was by Bates, to include all the superficial resemblances between animals and any part of their environment. Wallace, however, separated the cryptic resemblances already described, and the majority of naturalists have followed this convenient arrangement. In cryptic resemblance an animal resembles some object of no interest to its enemy (or prey), and in so doing is concealed; in mimicry an animal resembles some other animal which is specially disliked by its enemy, or some object which is specially attractive to its prey, and in so doing becomes conspicuous. Some naturalists have considered mimicry to include all superficial likenesses between animals, but such a classification would group together resemblances which have widely different uses.

  1. The resemblance of a mollusc to the coral on which it lives, or an external parasite to the hair or skin of its host, would be procryptic;
  2. that between moths which resemble lichen, syncryptic;
  3. between distasteful insects, synaposematic;
  4. between the Insectivor mole and the Rodent mole-rat, syntechnic;
  5. the essential element in mimicry is that it is a false warning (pseud-aposematic) or false recognition (pseudepisematic) character.

Some have considered that mimicry indicates resemblance to a moving object; but apart from the non-mimetic likenesses between animals classified above, there are ordinary cryptic resemblances to drifting leaves, swaying bits of twig, etc., while truly mimetic resemblances are often specially adapted for the attitude of rest. Many use the term mimicry to include synaposematic as well as pseudo-sematic resemblances, calling the former Müllerian, the latter Batesian, mimicry. The objection to this grouping is that it takes little account of the deceptive element which is essential in mimicry. In synaposematic colouring the warning is genuine, in pseudaposematic it is a sham. The term mimicry has led to much misunderstanding from the fact that in ordinary speech it implies deliberate imitation. The production of mimicry in an individual animal has no more to do with consciousness or taking thought than any of the other processes of growth. Protective mimicry is here defined as an advantageous and superficial resemblance of one animal to another, which latter is specially defended so as to be disliked or feared by the majority of enemies of the groups to which both belong. Resemblance which appeals to the sense of sight, sometimes to that of hearing, and rarely to smell, but does not extend to deep-seated characters except when the superficial likeness is affected by them. Mutatis mutandis, this definition will apply to aggressive (pseudepisematic) resemblance. The conditions under which mimicry occurs have been stated by Wallace:

  1. that the imitative species occur in the same area and occupy the same station as the imitated;
  2. that the imitators are always the more defenceless;
  3. that the imitators are always less numerous in individuals;
  4. that the imitators differ from the bulk of their allies;
  5. that the imitation, however minute, is external and visible only, never extending to internal characters or to such as do not affect the external appearance.

It is obvious that conditions 2 and 3 do not hold in the case of Müllerian mimicry. Mimicry has been explained, independently of natural selection, by the supposition that it is the common expression of the direct action of common causes, such as climate, food, etc.; also by the supposition of independent lines of evolution leading to the same result without any selective action in consequence of advantage in the struggle; also by the operation of sexual selection.

It is proposed, in conclusion, to give an account of the broad aspects of mimicry, and attempt a brief discussion of the theories of origin of each class of facts (see Poulton, Linn. Soc. Journ. Zool., 1898, p. 558). It will be found that in many cases the argument here made use of applies equally to the origin of cryptic and sematic colours. The relationship between these classes has been explained: mimicry is, as Wallace has stated (Darwinism, London, 1889), merely an exceptional form of protective resemblance. Now, protective (cryptic) resemblance cannot be explained on any of the lines suggested above, except natural selection; even sexual selection fails, because cryptic resemblance is especially common in the immature stages of insect life. But it would be unreasonable to explain mimetic resemblance by one set of principles and cryptic by another and totally different set. Again, it may be plausible to explain the mimicry of one butterfly for another on one of the suggested lines, but the resemblance of a fly or moth to a wasp is by no means so easy, and here selection would be generally conceded; yet the appeal to antagonistic principles to explain such closely related cases would only be justified by much direct evidence. Furthermore, the mimetic resemblances between butterflies are not haphazard, but the models almost invariably belong only to certain sub-families, the Danainae and Acraeinae in all the warmer parts of the world, and, in tropical America, the Ithomiinae and Heliconinae as well. These groups have the characteristics of aposematic species, and no theory but natural selection explains their invariable occurrence as models wherever they exist. It is impossible to suggest, except by natural selection, any explanation of the fact that mimetic resemblances are confined to changes which produce or strengthen a superficial likeness. Very deep-seated changes are generally involved, inasmuch as the appropriate instincts as to attitude, etc., are as important as colour and marking. The same conclusion is reached when we analyse the nature of mimetic resemblance and realize how complex it really is, being made up of colours, both pigmentary and structural, pattern, form, attitude and movement. A plausible interpretation of colour may be wildly improbable when applied to some other element, and there is no explanation except natural selection which can explain all these elements. The appeal to the direct action of local conditions in common often breaks down upon the slightest investigation, the difference in habits between mimic and model in the same locality causing the most complete divergence in their conditions of life. Thus many insects produced from burrowing larvae mimic those whose larvae live in the open. Mimetic resemblance is far commoner in the female than in the male, a fact readily explicable by selection, as suggested by Wallace, for the female is compelled to fly more slowly and to expose itself while laying eggs, and hence a resemblance to the slow-flying freely exposed models is especially advantageous. The facts that mimetic species occur in the same locality, fly at the same time of the year as their models, and are day-flying species even though they may belong to nocturnal groups, are also more or less difficult to explain except on the theory of natural selection, and so also is the fact that mimetic resemblance is produced in the most varied manner. A spider resembles its model, an ant, by a modification of its body-form into a superficial resemblance, and by holding one pair of legs to represent antennae; certain bugs (Hemiptera) and beetles have also gained a shape unusual in their respective groups, a shape which superficially resembles an ant; a Locustid (Myrmecophana) has the shape of an ant painted, as it were, on its body, all other parts resembling the background and invisible; a Membracid (Homoptera) is entirely unlike an ant, but is concealed by an ant-like shield. When we further realize that in this and other examples of mimicry the likeness is almost always detailed and remarkable, however it is attained, while the methods differ absolutely, we recognize that natural selection is the only possible explanation hitherto suggested. In the cases of aggressive mimicry an animal resembles some object which is attractive to its prey. Examples are found in the flower-like species of mantis, which attract the insects on which they feed. Such cases are generally described as possessing alluring colours, and are regarded as examples of aggressive (anticryptic) resemblance, but their logical position is here.

Paradesia decora Keulemans
Male and female birds of paradise
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Darwin suggested the explanation of these appearances in his theory of sexual selection (The Descent of Man, London, 1874). The rivalry of the males for the possession of the females he believed to be decided by the preference of the latter for those individuals with especially bright colours, highly developed plumes, beautiful song, etc. Wallace did not accept the theory, but believed that natural selection, either directly or indirectly, accounts for all the facts. Probably the majority of naturalists follow Darwin in this respect. The subject is most difficult, and the interpretation of a great proportion of the examples in a high degree uncertain, so that a very brief account is here expedient. That selection of some kind has been operative is indicated by the diversity of the elements into which the effects can be analysed. The most complete set of observations on epigamic display was made by George W and Elizabeth G Peckham upon spiders of the family Attidae (Nat. Hist. Soc. of Wisconsin, vol. i., 1889). These observations afforded the authors conclusive evidence that the females pay close attention to the love-dances of the males, and also that they have not only the power, but the will, to exercise a choice among the suitors for their favor. Epigamic characters are often concealed except during courtship; they are found almost exclusively in species which are diurnal or semi-diurnal in their habits, and are excluded from those parts of the body which move too rapidly to be seen. They are very commonly directly associated with the nervous system; and in certain fish, and probably in other animals, an analogous heightening of effect accompanies nervous excitement other than sexual, such as that due to fighting or feeding. Although there is epigamic display in species with sexes alike, it is usually most marked in those with secondary sexual characters specially developed in the male. These are an exception to the rule in heredity, in that their appearance is normally restricted to a single sex, although in many of the higher animals they have been proved to be latent in the other, and may appear after the essential organs of sex have been removed or become functionless. This is also the case in the Aculeate Hymenoptera when the reproductive organs have been destroyed by the parasite Stylops. Wallace suggested that they are in part to be explained as recognition characters, in part as an indication of surplus vital activity in the male. More recent theories by the likes of W. D. Hamilton and Amotz Zahavi (see handicap principle) have also been proposed.

See also

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Further reading

  • Eimer, T. (1898) Orthogenesis der Schmetterlinge. Leipzig.
  • Poulton, E. B. (1890)The colours of Animals. London.
  • Beddard, F. E. (1892) Animal colouration. London
  • Haase, E. (1896) Researches on Mimicry. (Translation) London.
  • Wallace, A. R. (1895)) Natural Selection and Tropical Nature. London.
  • Darwinism. (1897) London.
  • A. H. Thayer and G. H. Thayer (1910) Concealing-Colouration in the Animal Kingdom New York.
  • Cott, H. B. (1957) Adaptive Coloration in Animals. Methuen, London
  • Wickler, W. (1968) Mimicry in plants and animals. McGraw-Hill, New York


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