The diversity and evolution of batesian mimicry in Papilio swallowtail butterflies

Evolution. 2009 Oct;63(10):2707-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00752.x. Epub 2009 Jun 22.


Papilio swallowtail butterflies exhibit a remarkable diversity of Batesian mimicry, manifested in several sex-limited and polymorphic types. There is little understanding of how this diversity is distributed within Papilio, and how different mimicry types have evolved in relation to each other. To answer these questions, I present a graphical model that connects various mimicry types by hypothetical character state changes within a phylogenetic framework. A maximum likelihood analysis of evolution of mimicry types on the Papilio phylogeny showed that sexually monomorphic mimicry and female-limited mimicry have evolved repeatedly but predominantly independently in different clades. However, transitions between these mimicry types are rarely observed. The frequency distribution of character state changes was skewed in favor of the evolution of mimicry, whereas many theoretically plausible character state changes, especially evolutionary loss of mimicry, were not evident. I discuss these findings in relation to studying the tempo of evolutionary change, loss of traits, and directionality and connectivity among character states. The pathway approach and phylogenetic patterns of mimicry demonstrated in Papilio are useful to test novel hypotheses regarding the diversity and evolutionary directionality of Batesian mimicry in other systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Butterflies / classification
  • Butterflies / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Species Specificity