How Did the Cuckoo Get Its Polymorphic Plumage?

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Science  03 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6094, pp. 532-533
DOI: 10.1126/science.1225997

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One hundred and fifty years ago, the English naturalist Henry Walter Bates first developed the theory of mimicry (1). Based on his field observations in the Amazon, he argued that the uncanny likeness of unrelated butterflies is an evolutionary adaptation whereby edible butterflies avoid predation by imitating the coloration of venomous butterfly species without paying the cost of arming themselves. Such “Batesian mimicry” is a dynamic parasitic game between three players, in which a harmless species (the mimic) escapes predation by imitating the warning signals of harmful species (the model) that a shared predator (the dupe) has learned to avoid. On page 578 of this issue, Thorogood and Davies show that Batesian mimicry dynamics also apply to the evolutionary game between cuckoos and their hosts (2).