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Harmless or Poisonous? Butterfly Mimicry and Survival

If you were a harmless butterfly what would you do to protect yourself?  Nature has created many ways for animals to protect themselves.  One common way is called mimicry.  What is mimicry?  It is when a harmless creature (the mimic) comes to look like a harmful creature (the model).
One butterfly, which is not so well known, is the Viceroy Butterfly.  These butterflies are harmless and defenseless.  They have no means of protecting themselves.  However, they have protected themselves by looking  very much like the popular Monarch butterfly.  To the untrained eye, the Viceroy Butterfly and the Monarch Butterfly look almost exactly alike.   They have the same orange coloring and black markings, except for one small detail.  If you look carefully at the Viceroy Butterfly, it has one barely detectable black horizontal vein going across its bottom wings.  To the untrained eye, they look identical.

Why does the Viceroy Butterfly mimic the Monarch Butterfly? To understand this, we have to look at the Monarch Butterfly.  What many people don’t know is that the Monarch Butterfly is poisonous to its predators due to its steady diet of the poisonous milkweed.  Birds have over time “learned” the pattern of the Monarch and have come to avoid the Monarch.
The Viceroys inadvertently have come to look more and more like the Monarch over time. The ones that don’t look like the Monarch have been picked off over time.  The remaining ones were those that looked like Monarch Butterflies.  The Viceroy Butterfly, by looking like the Monarch, has benefitted by looking like the Monarch as the birds avoid the Viceroy, thinking it is a Monarch.  This mechanism of survival is mimicry.

Mimicry is a common phenomenon that can be found animals and plants and is a way that harmless living things with no defenses can survive.

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Tags: orange coloring, Monarch butterfly, animals and plants, viceroy butterfly, Monarch butterflies

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