Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Evolutionary biology

Life imperfectly imitates life

Some species evolve to resemble another species so as to protect themselves from predation, but this mimicry is often imprecise. An analysis of hoverflies suggests why imperfect imitation persists in the face of natural selection. See Letter p.461

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: A fly in wasp's clothing.


  1. Bates, H. W. Trans. Linn. Soc. 23, 495–556 (1862).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Burkhardt, F., Evans, S. & Pearn, A. M. (eds) Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin 1860–1870 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. Ruxton, G. D., Sherratt, T. N. & Speed, M. P. Avoiding Attack: The Evolutionary Ecology of Crypsis, Warning Signals & Mimicry (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  4. Forbes, P. Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage (Yale Univ. Press, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Penney, H. D., Hassall, C., Skevington, J. H., Abbott, K. R. & Sherratt, T. N. Nature 483, 461–464 (2012).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Gilbert, F. in Insect Evolutionary Ecology (eds Fellowes, M. D. E., Holloway, G. J. & Rolff, J.) 231–288 (CABI, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Harper, G. R. Jr & Pfennig, D. W. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 274, 1955–1961 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Alexandrou, M. A. et al. Nature 469, 84–88 (2011).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Estrada, C. & Jiggins, C. D. J. Evol. Biol. 21, 749–760 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Pfennig, D. W. & Kikuchi, D. W. Curr. Zool. (in the press).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding authors

Correspondence to David W. Pfennig or David W. Kikuchi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Pfennig, D., Kikuchi, D. Life imperfectly imitates life. Nature 483, 410–411 (2012).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing