Once a Batesian mimic, not always a Batesian mimic: Mimic reverts back to ancestral phenotype when the model is absent

Kathleen L. Prudic, Jeffrey C. Oliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Batesian mimics gain protection from predation through the evolution of physical similarities to a model species that possesses anti-predator defences. This protection should not be effective in the absence of the model since the predator does not identify the mimic as potentially dangerous and both the model and the mimic are highly conspicuous. Thus, Batesian mimics should probably encounter strong predation pressure outside the geographical range of the model species. There are several documented examples of Batesian mimics occurring in locations without their models, but the evolutionary responses remain largely unidentified. A mimetic species has four alternative evolutionary responses to the loss of model presence. If predation is weak, it could maintain its mimetic signal. If predation is intense, it is widely presumed the mimic will go extinct. However, the mimic could also evolve a new colour pattern to mimic another model species or it could revert back to its ancestral, less conspicuous phenotype. We used molecular phylogenetic approaches to reconstruct and test the evolution of mimicry in the North American admiral butterflies (Limenitis: Nymphalidae). We confirmed that the more cryptic white-banded form is the ancestral phenotype of North American admiral butterflies. However, one species, Limenitis arthemis, evolved the black pipevine swallowtail mimetic form but later reverted to the white-banded more cryptic ancestral form. This character reversion is strongly correlated with the geographical absence of the model species and its host plant, but not the host plant distribution of L. arthemis. Our results support the prediction that a Batesian mimic does not persist in locations without its model, but it does not go extinct either. The mimic can revert back to its ancestral, less conspicuous form and persist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1125-1132
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1639
StatePublished - May 22 2008


  • Character evolution
  • Lepidoptera
  • Parametric bootstrap
  • Wing pattern evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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