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Mapping the evolution of accurate Batesian mimicry of social wasps in hoverflies

Leavey, Alice; Taylor, Christopher H.; Symonds, Matthew R. E.; Gilbert, Francis; Reader, Tom

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Alice Leavey

Matthew R. E. Symonds

Associate Professor


Hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae) provide an excellent opportunity to study the evolution of Batesian mimicry, where defenseless prey avoid predation by evolving to resemble defended “model” species. Although some hoverflies beautifully resemble their hymenopteran models, others seem to be poor mimics or are apparently nonmimetic. The reasons for this variation are still enigmatic despite decades of research. Here, we address this issue by mapping social-wasp mimicry across the phylogeny of Holarctic hoverflies. Using the “distance transform” technique, we calculate an objective measure of the abdominal pattern similarity between 167 hoverfly species and a widespread putative model, the social wasp, Vespula germanica. We find that good wasp mimicry has evolved several times, and may have also been lost, leading to the presence of nonmimics deep within clades of good mimics. Body size was positively correlated with similarity to the model, supporting previous findings that smaller species are often poorer mimics. Additionally, univoltine species were less accurate wasp mimics than multivoltine and bivoltine species. Hence, variation in the accuracy of Batesian mimics may reflect variation in the opportunity for selection caused by differences in prey value or signal perception (influenced by body size) and phenology or generation time (influenced by voltinism).

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 4, 2021
Online Publication Date Sep 14, 2021
Publication Date Sep 14, 2021
Deposit Date Sep 15, 2021
Publicly Available Date Sep 15, 2022
Journal Evolution
Print ISSN 0014-3820
Electronic ISSN 1558-5646
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords General Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Genetics; Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Leavey, A., Taylor, C.H., Symonds, M.R.E., Gilbert, F. and Reader, T. (2021), Mapping the evolution of accurate Batesian mimicry of social wasps in hoverflies. Evolution, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.


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