May 2008 Archives

Mimicry in snakes has been well studied but a blog post reviewing a recent article in Nature presented a compelling idea about how snakes may not be mimicking other snakes but salamanders. King snakes apparently are colored to mimic the poisonous coral snake. The authors expected king snakes with overlapping ranges to have more red and less black coloration (king snake look more like the coral snake) and as population moved further away from the overlap that the coloration would be less red and more black coloration (king snake look less like the coral snake). This makes sense as a brightly colored king snake in an area where there are no coral snakes would stand out, predators wouldn't know to avoid it and they probably would not survive. The data on coloration showed the reverse and the authors hypothesized that migration must be the answer. But another idea posted in the blog was that the king snakes were not mimicking coral snakes but that instead young, bright, red, king snakes mimic the bright, red, terrestrial red eft stage of the Red-spotted newt which happen to overlap ranges. James Petranka mentions in his book "Salamanders of the United States and Canada" that studies have found that salamanders, particularly Red Salamanders, mimic Red-spotted newts (red eft stage) but not because of Batesian mimicry (I want to look like you because they know you taste awful and I would taste delicious) but Mullerian mimicry (We both look alike and we both taste awful). What does this mean for the snakes looking like salamanders hypothesis? Maybe the answer is a combination of the Mullerian and Batesian mimicry or in other words everything that looks red should be avoided.