Letter | Published:

Coral-snake pattern recognition and stimulus generalisation by naive great kiskadees (Aves: Tyrannidae)

Naturevolume 265pages535536 (1977) | Download Citation



THE neotropical coral-snake complex with its contrasting ringed patterns includes true coral snakes, for example, the highly venomous elapid genus Micrurus, and many colubrids that are either less strongly venomous or non-venomous1. Whether or not this complex involves Batesian and/or Müllerian mimicry has been widely debated2–5. Wickler1 suggested that if mimicry depends on predator learning, true coral snakes are too deadly to be models; rather, they are mimics of the less dangerous colubrids of the complex (Mertensian mimicry). He also claimed that there was no evidence that any predator could recognise a coral snake innately1. I have shown that Costa Rican turquoise-browed motmots (Emomota superciliosa) need no learning to show strong aversion to a pattern of wide yellow and narrow red rings6; this I have interpreted as an innate recognition of a generalised coral-snake pattern. No Costa Rican member of the coral-snake complex has wider yellow than red rings, however, so I had no proof that the motmots were not simply showing an aversion to a general aposematic pattern. I present here evidence that another avian predator needs no learning to avoid not only a pattern of wide yellow and red rings, but also the most common local Micrurus pattern of red, yellow and black rings.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Wickler, W., Mimicry in Plants and Animals (World University Library, London. 1968).

  2. 2

    Dunn, E. R., Evolution, 8, 97–102 (1954).

  3. 3

    Brattstrom, B. H., Evolution, 9, 217–219 (1955).

  4. 4

    Greene, H. W., and Pyburn, W. R., Biologist, 55, 144–148 (1973).

  5. 5

    Hecht, M. K., and Marien, D. J. Morph., 98, 335–366 (1956).

  6. 6

    Smith, S. M., Science, 187, 759–760 (1975).

  7. 7

    Taylor, E. H., Kans. Univ. Sci. Bull., 34, 1–188 (1951).

  8. 8

    Slud, P., Bull. Am. Mus. nat. Hist., 128, 1–430 (1964).

  9. 9

    Coppinger, R. P., Am. Nat., 104, 323–335 (1970).

  10. 10

    Rettenmeyer, C. W., A. Rev. Ent., 15, 43–74 (1970).

  11. 11

    Brower, L. P., Brower, J. V. Z., and Collins, C. T., Zoologica, N. Y., 48, 65–84 (1963).

  12. 12

    Brower, L. P., Alcock, J., and Brower, J. V. Z., in Ecological Genetics and Evolution (edit. by Creed, R.), 261–274 (Blackwell, Oxford, 1971).

  13. 13

    Otte, D., A. Rev. Ecol. Syst., 5, 385–417 (1974).

Download references

Author information

Author notes

  1. SUSAN M. SMITH: Address reprint requests to: 76B, Hardee Lane, Whispering Pines, North Carolina 28389.


  1. Depto de Biologia, Universidad Nacional, Heredia, Costa Rica



  1. Search for SUSAN M. SMITH in:

About this article

Publication history



Issue Date



Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.