Mimicry and masquerade from the avian visual perspective

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38 Scopus citations


Several of the most celebrated examples of visual mimicry, like mimetic eggs laid by avian brood parasites and palatable insects mimicking distasteful ones, involve signals directed at the eyes of birds. Despite this, studies of mimicry from the avian visual perspective have been rare, particularly with regard to defensive mimicry and masquerade. Defensive visual mimicry, which includes Batesian and Müllerian mimicry, occurs when organisms share a visual signal that functions to deter predators. Masquerade occurs when an organism mimics an inedible or uninteresting object, such as a leaf, stick, or pebble. In this paper, I present five case studies covering diverse examples of defensive mimicry and masquerade as seen by birds. The best-known cases of defensive visual mimicry typically come from insect prey, but birds themselves can exhibit defensive visual mimicry in an attempt to escape mobbing or dissuade avian predators. Using examples of defensive visual mimicry by both insects and birds, I show how quantitative models of avian color, luminance, and pattern vision can be used to enhance our understanding of mimicry in many systems and produce new hypotheses about the evolution and diversity of signals. Overall, I investigate examples of Batesian mimicry (1 and 2), Müllerian mimicry (3 and 4), and masquerade (5) as follows: 1) Polymorphic mimicry in African mocker swallowtail butterflies; 2) Cuckoos mimicking sparrowhawks; 3) Mimicry rings in Neotropical butterflies; 4) Plumage mimicry in toxic pitohuis; and 5) Dead leaf-mimicking butterflies and mantids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)630-648
Number of pages19
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Avian vision
  • Luminance
  • Masquerade
  • Mimicry
  • Pattern
  • Protective coloration


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