MadSci Network: Genetics

Re: Is there any genetic link between insects and plants?

Date: Mon Nov 8 12:49:56 2010
Posted By: dave armstrong, Faculty, Biology, Cedars Tutoring, Qatar
Area of science: Genetics
ID: 1285874030.Ge

Dear Iain,

There is no genetic link to explain mimicry. Organisms that mimic others do not have the same genetic source with which to create their “copy”.

Although all organisms are surprisingly similar in their DNA, the mechanism of making the copy is due to normal evolution. In many cases studied, the copy starts as a rough resemblance which gives a benefit to the organism as prey or predator. The natural selection of the “chosen one” then continues with a greater selection pressure for better and better resemblance to the model on which the mimicry is based.

As there is great difficulty in explaining how mimics can evolve certain aspects of their patterns, I will begin with your specific example.
Orchids have built their flowers to mimic many bees and wasps, but not mantis as far as I am aware. Assuming you mean the pink orchid mantis, these are fascinating mimics, as witnessed by a plantsman who seems obsessed with the insect :

Many mantids live near flowers and resemble parts of plants in any case. One African species even pretends to be a flower when the bush it sits on has no flower of its own. Have a look at it here on a general insect site:

The extreme similarity between its orchid and the flower mantis has probably taken many generations longer than other mimic species. Instead of rough resemblance, the mantid is indistinguishable from the flower to a casual observer. This indicates no genetic relationship, but a long-lasting relationship where the one species survives because of the other and cannot avoid extinction without it!

Mantis shrimp are an interesting aside here, to avoid becoming stuck in a rut. They simply seem to be mantis-like, without any mimicry, but there IS a genetic link of a distant kind because the two Arthropods have front limbs which use a certain technique. This is called parallel evolution and has importance in any debate on genetic relationships.

Other mimics worth bringing to your attention are cleaner fish and their mimics. Cleaners are well known to remove parasites from larger fish just like tick birds on African mammals. The cleaner mimic is a totally unrelated species which has become closer and closer in appearance to the model cleaner. Can you imagine the big difference between the two supposed cleaners. One is harmless, but the big teeth on the mimic should give it away (but don’t). Wolfgang Wickler made a lifetime study of these fish, particularly the red snapper’s cleaner, Labroides sp. and the cleaner mimic, Aspidontus sp.

If you can find his old book,
Mimicry in Plants and Animals (transl. By RD Martin), Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1968,
you can find many mimics such as these.

For more on the naughty mimic and an recent update on its habits, read :

Well Iain, for a question that requires the answer, “No”, I feel as though I’ve gone on a bit. However, if it inspires you to look at or think about mimicry with a greater respect. Remember the French used the idea to invent the camouflage concept which has now evolved into the stealth vehicle.

Current Queue | Current Queue for Genetics | Genetics archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Genetics.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-2006. All rights reserved.