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Mimicry versus Hybridity (S179: 1870)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed in the 29 December 1870 number of Nature. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S179.htm

    [[p. 165]] I am rather surprised that Mr. Andrew Murray should have advanced his theory of mimicry being due to hybridisation, without adducing one solitary fact to prove that hybridisation between distinct families of insects ever occurs, or that, if it do occur, the offspring are fertile inter se. Mimicry is most frequent between very distinct families or higher groups, and often between different orders of insects. We may fairly consider that the "natural orders" of plants, as being the next well-marked groups above genera, are about equivalent to the families of insects, so that the analogy furnished by hybridisation among plants, on which alone Mr. Murray's theory is founded, wholly breaks down, unless he can show (which he has not done) that such hybridisation occurs between species of different "natural orders," or of well-marked groups higher than genera. It would be mere waste of time to discuss the details of a theory whose fundamental assumption is not only quite unsupported by fact, but is diametrically opposed to the almost, if not quite, universal fact that hybrids do not occur between species of different families or higher groups.

    Mr. Scudder's letter contains some interesting and suggestive facts, and opens up a new field of investigation as to the immunity of certain species, in their egg or larva state, from the attacks of hymenopterous and dipterous parasites. It is, I believe, now stated for the first time, that the peculiar secretions which render the Danaidæ distasteful to birds not only extend to their larva and egg state, but act as a safeguard from the attacks of parasites. The objection that it would have been more advantageous for the larva than for the imago of the Limenitis misippus to mimic the Danais archippus, appears to me to have no weight. We do not know, for instance, if such mimicry would be any defence against parasites who may be guided by smell rather than sight; and from the frequent limitation of certain odours and secretions to whole genera or families, the variations necessary to produce them may be of rare occurrence.

    The fact that Limenitis misippus and L. ursula are about equally plentiful is not at all remarkable, since there are species of all degrees of rarity in every extensive group; but in this case it happens that both insects are mimickers, Limenitis ursula resembling the common N. American Papilio philenor, especially on the under side, which is exposed when the insects are at rest. This case of mimicry is not so perfect or so striking as the other, but that it is one is pretty certain, and there are several other [[p. 166]] instances in various parts of the world in which Papilios of certain groups are the objects of mimicry. Although Mr. Scudder has never seen a bird capture a butterfly, others have been more fortunate, and that they are thus captured very largely in the tropics is certain. It is not improbable, from the rarity of mimicry in the temperate zone, that the few cases which exist may have been produced under the more favourable climatal and organic conditions of the semi-tropical epochs anterior to the glacial period.

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