“Batesian mimics are undefended mimics that resemble a defended model, but they are able to receive protection by looking like the defended model,” says Susan Finkbeiner, an entomologist and ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences at California State University, Long Beach. “I’ve always been fascinated by the many insects that mimic, or resemble, wasps and bees. There are moths and flies that look like bees. There are harmless grasshoppers and beetles that look like wasps. And their resemblance to the wasps and bees is impeccable down to some of the smallest details!”
Batesian mimicry was originally defined in non-predatory animals — it is common in frogs, snakes and butterflies, to name a few. But plants and fungi also try to pass as inedible or toxic stuff: Some plants look like or resemble rocks in order to be less noticed by herbivores. Some fungi that grow on flowers mimic the pollinator-attracting parts of the flower, which results in pollinators spreading the fungal spores in addition to pollen grains when they travel from flower to flower.
According to Finkbeiner, Batesian mimicry only works under the right circumstances. For starters, looking tough, poisonous or disgusting is only effective if a predator actually learns to avoid you because of it. Otherwise your outfit is useless. Secondly, the species the mimic is modeling itself after has to occur in the same geographic area as the mimic — if not, the predators in their area might not even know to avoid them because they hadn’t learned to avoid the model species to begin with. And finally, the frequency or number of the model species present in the landscape has to be higher than the number of mimics present – otherwise predators might start to learn that some of the mimics go down pretty smooth.
And while Batesian mimics often stop at looking like the model species, some mimics take Batesian mimicry to the extreme by mimicking even the behaviors of the models: mimicking sounds, flight patterns and antennal movements.