I have been asking the readers of Article 4 Kids to write and tell me what they wanted me to write about. Here is one of the responses I received:
I would love to see you do more stories on the animals that were designed to look like other animals in order to protect themselves, such as the hawkmoth caterpillars. I have shared your article on mimicry with many friends and family. A friend of mine is actually using that article on mimicry to teach creation in a Sunday school class.
I have also found other pictures of hawkmoth caterpillars that make themselves look like diamond headed snakes. I believe a well organized picture book of these amazing “examples of mimicry” would be a great tool when talking about creation with someone that has only been taught evolution. A picture is worth a thousand words. It would be helpful to kids and adults.
You are doing a great job with the website. Keep it up.
Raife, thank you for contacting me with your request to learn more about animal mimicry and God’s wonderful world of nature.
There are over a dozen different types of mimicry described in scientific literature. The most common of those just happens to be the one you requested to learn more about. It is referred to as Batesian mimicry, named after Henry Walter Bates, an English naturalist. In 1848, Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace traveled up the Amazon. During his 11 years in the Amazon, Bates collected specimens of over 14,000 species, most of which were insects. Upon his return, he worked for the Royal Geographical Society in London. Through his work on the insects collected from the Amazon, Bates was the first person to write about mimicry. Based upon Bates’ description of the mimicry he found, this form of mimicry was later named after him.
Batesian mimicry is defined as when a harmless species evolves the same physical appearance or warning signals as a harmful species in order to protect themselves from predators.
One of the classic examples that has been used for Batesian mimicry is the monarch butterfly and the viceroy butterfly. Initially it was believed that the viceroy butterfly had evolved a pattern similar to the monarch butterfly since the monarch is toxic due to its caterpillar’s diet of poisonous milkweed. However, it has been discovered that the viceroy butterfly is more foul-tasting than the monarch. Therefore, the viceroy butterfly was not mimicking the monarch after all.
All my life I’ve had a fascination with snakes. Most people fear and loath snakes, but I have always found them to be interesting and uniquely designed animals. I’ve kept snakes as pets and years ago volunteered in a venomous animal lab milking rattlesnakes, cobras, black mambas and fer-de-lance snakes. While working with snakes, I observed instances of mimicry among them.
One of the snakes I had was a Mexican milksnake. I watched him hatch from the egg along with the rest of the clutch. I had him until he died of old age. Milksnakes are one of most docile snakes I have ever handled. They are not poisonous and very easy to handle. I’ve never had a milksnake ever try to bite me.
Milksnakes are also used as a prime example of mimicry as they closely resemble the venomous coral snake as does the scarlet and mountain kingsnakes. The evolutionary explanation is that the milksnakes and kingsnakes evolved their colorful patterns purposely to mimic that of the coral snake so that predators would leave them alone.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve also had the pleasure of handling several species of cobras, including king cobras. One of the king cobras I milked measured just over 13 feet long. The most striking characteristic of cobras is when they “hood” or flatten out the ribs immediately behind the head. Many animals know that when they encounter a snake that raises its head and hoods that it is dangerous and should be avoided.
Cobras are not the only snake to display a hood. The false cobra is a small slightly venomous snake that mimics the behavior of real cobras. Even though false cobras are slightly venomous, they are so peaceful that it is not uncommon to find people handling them like I use to handle my milksnake.
There is another snake that supposedly mimics the hooding behavior of cobras that I find even more fascinating than the false cobra. The hognose snake has also been observed to form a hood when threatened. What makes the hognose snake so interesting is that most of the different species of hognose snakes live in North, Central and South America where cobras do not exist. If there aren’t any cobras on the same continent then how could the hognose snakes know how to mimic them and how would the predators know that hooding is a sign of danger?
I’ve also read some reports that say that bull snakes mimic rattlesnakes in both appearance and behavior. On more than one occasion I’ve seen someone claiming to see a rattlesnake when in reality it was nothing more than a bull snake. Not only did the bull snake look like a rattlesnake, but when threatened, the bull snake vibrates its tail just like a rattlesnake. If there are any leaves, branches or debris on the ground by the bull snake’s tail, it would make a rustling noise similar to the rattlesnake’s. However, many other snakes such as kingsnakes also will vibrate their tails when threatened like a rattlesnake does.
I have a problem with the evolutionary scenario behind most mimicry. They believe that one animal, like the milksnake evolved a color pattern similar to that of the coral snake in order to ward off predators. But never have I read an account of how the milksnake went about evolving this color pattern or what it looked like before it did. They can’t explain how the milksnake obtained the genes, proteins, and other chemical and molecular ingredients necessary to evolve the new color pattern. Yet, according to evolutionists, the early milksnakes had to observe that the coral snakes were not attacked as much by predators, so somehow they KNEW that they needed a similar color pattern so they set about evolving it. As I have said many times, evolutionists seem to place some kind of conscious decision making ability on animals and plants to evolve new traits when at the same time they claim that everything happens by random chance.
From a creationist point of view, it seems that the milksnakes and kingsnakes most likely had the similar color patterns from the very beginning. It would make sense that animals that shun away from one pattern would also shun away from a similar pattern, so these supposed mimics may have been less likely to be eaten by predators, thus making them more likely to survive and pass on their traits to their offspring. Perhaps they may have been milksnakes and kingsnakes that didn’t look like the coral snakes and they were more heavily preyed upon until they no longer exist today. Either way, it’s not mimicry or evolution, but just a matter of color and survival.
In the case of the false cobra and hognose snake hooding like the cobra, this can also be explained. Many animals will try to make themselves look larger when threatened. I’ve seen frogs, toads, spiders, fish, snakes, gophers, and birds puff up, stand up, stretch our their arms or wings in an attempt to make themselves appear larger to whatever is threatening them. Quite possibly, the false cobra and hognose snake are doing likewise. Some also make unpleasant noises like hissing, croaking, growling and even screaming to scare off predators. This isn’t mimicry evolution rather it’s a matter of smaller animals trying to survive by bluffing a larger or more menacing prey.
Lastly, the explanation for the similarity in color pattern between the bull snake and rattlesnake would be explainable in the same way as that of the coral and milksnakes. As for the vibrating of the tail, it’s not a matter of the bull snake mimicking the rattlesnake’s rattle as much as could be a way of distracting the attention of a potential predator to the tail and away from the head. Just like some lizards will use their tails to distract a predator, snakes will do the same. If a predator attacks the tail, it may not end up as a lethal attack, whereas if they attacked the head, there is a higher chance of the snake being killed.
Raife, mimicry is definitely not a process of evolution, but a process of natural selection for certain patterns and the success of certain survival behavioral techniques over other less successful techniques. And much to the dismay of evolutionists, natural selection and survival of the fits best with biblical creation that has suffered from 6000 years of the Curse.