Royal Society Publishing

The aerodynamic costs of warning signals in palatable mimetic butterflies and their distasteful models

Robert B. Srygley


Bates hypothesized that some butterfly species that are palatable gain protection from predation by appearing similar to distasteful butterflies. When undisturbed, distasteful butterflies fly slowly and in a straight line, and palatable Batesian mimics also adopt this nonchalant behaviour. When seized by predators, distasteful butterflies are defended by toxic or nauseous chemicals. Lacking chemical defences, Batesian mimics depend on flight to escape attacks. Here, I demonstrate that flight in warning–coloured mimetic butterflies and their distasteful models is more costly than in closely related non–mimetic butterflies. The increased cost is the result of differences in both wing shape and kinematics. Batesian mimics and their models slow the angular velocity of their wings to enhance the colour signal but at an aerodynamic cost. Moreover, the design for flight in Batesian mimics has an additional energetic cost over that of its models. The added cost may cause Batesian mimics to be rare, explaining a general pattern that Bates first observed.

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