What kind of signals do mimetic tiger moths send? A phylogenetic test of wasp mimicry systems (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae: Euchromiini)

Rebecca B. Simmons, Susan J. Weller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Mimicry has been examined in field and laboratory studies of butterflies and its evolutionary dynamics have been explored in computer simulations. Phylogenetic studies examining the evolution of mimicry, however, are rare. Here, the phylogeny of wasp-mimicking tiger moths, the Sphecosoma group, was used to test evolutionary predictions of computer simulations of conventional Müllerian mimicry and quasi-Batesian mimicry dynamics. We examined whether mimetic traits evolved individually, or as suites of characters, using concentrated change tests. The phylogeny of these moth mimics revealed that individual mimetic characters were conserved, as are the three mimetic wasp forms: yellow Polybia, black Polybia and Parachartergus mimetic types. This finding was consistent with a 'supergene' control of linked loci and the Nicholson two-step model of mimicry evolution. We also used a modified permutation-tail probability approach to examine the rate of mimetic-type evolution. The observed topology, hypothetical Müllerian and Batesian scenarios, and 1000 random trees were compared using Kishino-Hasegawa tests. The observed phylogeny was more consistent with the predicted Müllerian distribution of mimetic traits than with that of a quasi-Batesian scenario. We suggest that the range of discriminatory abilities of the predator community plays a key role in shaping mimicry dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)983-990
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1495
StatePublished - May 22 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Arctiinae
  • Comparative biology
  • Evolution of mimicry
  • Müllerian mimicry


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