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Is the Slow Worm a Batesian Mimic?

Naturevolume 247pages571572 (1974) | Download Citation



THE phenomenon of Batesian mimicry, where an edible animal gains an advantage by mimicking a distasteful or dangerous animal showing a warning pattern, is well known and has been described by many authors1–4. The advantage gained by a mimic decreases if the mimetic form becomes too common, since a predator may learn that the warning signal mimicked is a sign of edibility rather than danger; thus selection for the mimic is density-dependent which, as shown by Haldane and Jayakar5, will often lead to a balanced polymorphism where both mimetic and non-mimetic forms are retained in the population. Matessi and Cori6 suggest that mimetic inheritance is often sex-limited so that the expression of mimicry is limited to one sex (usually the female according to Sheppard3) although individuals of the other sex may have the mimetic genotype. It is suggested here that the slow worm (Anguis fragilis L.) has a form of colouration exhibited by the young and some adult females which is a mimic of the warning pattern of the adder (Vipera berus L.).

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  1. 1

    Wickler, W., Mimicry (World University Library, London, 1968).

  2. 2

    Brown, E. S., New Biology, 10, 72 (1951).

  3. 3

    Sheppard, P. M., Natural Selection and Heredity (Hutchinson, London, 1967).

  4. 4

    Ford, E. B., Ecological Genetics (Methuen, London, 1964).

  5. 5

    Haldane, J. B. S., and Jayakar, S. D., J. Genet., 58, 318 (1963).

  6. 6

    Matessi, C., and Cori, R., Theoretical Population Biology, 3, 41 (1972).

  7. 7

    Smith, M. A., The British Amphibians and Reptiles (Collins, London, 1951).

  8. 8

    Prestt, I., J. Zool., Lond., 164, 373 (1971).

  9. 9

    Reid, H. A., Tropical Doctor, 2, 155 (1972).

  10. 10

    Manly, B. F. J., Biometrics, 28, 1115 (1972).

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  1. Department of Zoology, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 2AJ



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