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Posted by Kim Lightle on September 24, 2013 at 1:30pm
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Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery – especially in the predator/prey/poison cycle. In nature, bright colors are basically neon signs that scream, "Don't eat me!" But how did prey evolve these characteristics? When did predators translate the meaning? In the current issue of the journal PLOS ONE, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) reveal that these color-coded communiqués evolve over time through gradual steps. Equally interesting, the scientists show how drab-colored, oft-eaten prey adopt garish colors to live long and prosper, even though they aren't poisonous, said Kenna Lehmann, MSU doctoral student of zoology. An example of truly toxic animals and their imitators are coral snakes and king snakes. While coral snakes are poisonous, king snakes are not. Even though king snakes are considered imperfect mimics, they are close enough that predators don't bother them.
Image credit: James Bettaso, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service