Floral Mimicry


Mimicry involves an organism copying the phenotype of a model so that another organism (operator) mistakes the mimic for the model. Mistaking mimic for model, the operator behaves in a way that benefits the mimic. In floral mimicry, the mimic is a flower that dupes the operator into acting as pollinator. The model, sought by the operator and mimicked by the flower, can be anything from a rewarding flower, to a sexually receptive female insect, to a pile of dung. Floral mimicry is found in many angiosperm families, most commonly in orchids. Pollination strategies involving mimicry allow us to address questions about how natural selection might favour transitions from rewarding to nonrewarding (deceptive) flowers, and in some scenarios, transitions from ‘traditional’ floral phenotypes to elaborate floral phenotypes mimicking animals, fungi or microbial decomposition of different substrates. These scenarios also allow us to address questions about pollinator sensory perception, learning and behaviour.

Key Concepts

  • Pollination strategies involving floral mimicry provide fascinating systems by which to study ecology and evolution.
  • Both Batesian and Müllerian mimicry are used as pollination strategies.
  • In Batesian floral mimicry, a nonrewarding flower may mimic a rewarding flower or a nonfloral resource such as carrion or dung.
  • There is currently some disagreement over definitions, classifications and expectations of mimicry in natural systems including pollination ecology.
  • When investigating potential mimicry in pollination, it is important to identify an ecologically relevant model and to understand the behavioural motivation of the operator (pollinator).

Keywords: carrion; deceptive pollination; fermentation; floral mimicry; olfactory; pollination; visual

Figure 1. Examples of ‘trap’ andopenflower types involved in mimicry pollination systems. Ceropegia sandersonii (a) and Aristolochia grandiflora (b, shown in cross‐section) represent flowers with a ‘trap’ (red arrows) that detains insect pollinators during pollination, and illustrate mimicry of insects and decaying plant material, respectively. Huernia hystrix (c) and Asimina triloba (d) are examples of ‘open’ flowers, mimicking carrion and fermentation, respectively. (a) Reproduced with permission from Annemarie Heiduk; (b) Reproduced with permission from Robert A. Raguso; (c) Reproduced with permission from Andreas Juergens.
Figure 2. Representatives from several genres of floral mimicry of nonfloral resources. Epipactis veratrifolia (a) represents mimicry of insects (aphids), sought by a hoverfly which has laid eggs (red arrow) on the flower. Stapelia grandiflora (b) and Jaborosa rotacea (c) represent mimicry of carrion including the presence of ‘hairs’, dark colouration and oligosulphide floral volatiles. Dracula lafleurii (d) and Cypripedium fargesii (e) represent mimicry of a fungal basidiocarp and vegetation mould, respectively. Finally, Ceropegia crassifolia (f) represents mimicry of fermenting fruit. (a,e) Reproduced with permission from Zong‐Xin Ren; (b,c) Reproduced with permission from Robert A. Raguso; (d) Reproduced with permission from Tobias Policha; (f) Reproduced with permission from Ulrich Meve.


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Further Reading

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Goodrich, Katherine R(Oct 2018) Floral Mimicry. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028131]