The Elements of Evolution (49-11) Mimicry


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. ~ English cleric Charles Caleb Colton

Mimicry is the evolutionary development of deceit. 2 cowbird species illustrate its potential power.


The screaming cowbird is a brood parasite whose fledglings look and sound like baywings, its primary host. This precise mimicry is rewarded with negligible rejection by deceived baywing mothers.

Meantime, shiny cowbirds dump their eggs in the nests of many other birds, including baywings. Unlike their close cousin, shiny cowbird hatchlings match neither the appearance nor the begging call of their hosts. Their mortality from host rejection is 83%.


Mimicry confers various advantages. Foremost is safety.

 Cagey Vines

Mimicry in animals is rather common, whereas documented cases in plants are rare. ~ Chilean botanists Ernesto Gianoli & Fernando Carrasco-Urra

The tropical woody vine Boquila trifoliolata mimics the leaves of the trees it climbs onto, including size, shape, color, orientation, petiole length, and tip spininess. All told, the vine can mimic 9 different leaf features of any of 12 different host species. A single vine can alter its leaves to specifically match the different trees it is on. This offers considerable protection against herbivory. How B. trifoliolata manages such sophisticated mimicry is mysterious.