Mimicry in viceroy butterflies is dependent on abundance of the model queen butterfly

Kathleen L. Prudic, Barbara N. Timmermann, Daniel R. Papaj, David B. Ritland, Jeffrey C. Oliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Mimics should not exist without their models, yet often they do. In the system involving queen and viceroy butterflies, the viceroy is both mimic and co-model depending on the local abundance of the model, the queen. Here, we integrate population surveys, chemical analyses, and predator behavior assays to demonstrate how mimics may persist in locations with low-model abundance. As the queen becomes less locally abundant, the viceroy becomes more chemically defended and unpalatable to predators. However, the observed changes in viceroy chemical defense and palatability are not attributable to differing host plant chemical defense profiles. Our results suggest that mimetic viceroy populations are maintained at localities of low-model abundance through an increase in their toxicity. Sharing the burden of predator education in some places but not others may also lower the fitness cost of warning signals thereby supporting the origin and maintenance of aposematism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number68
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Mimicry in viceroy butterflies is dependent on abundance of the model queen butterfly'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this