Nature tells us: Snakes mimic extinct species to avoid predators
Scarlet kingsnakes are chasing an evolutionary ghost. In North Carolina’s Sandhills forest, the harmless snakes have evolved to better resemble a poisonous species that vanished from the region more than 50 years ago.
“When I went and collected the data, I looked at it and said, ‘This can’t be’,” Akcali says. The kingsnakes from the Sandhills that were collected in recent years tended to more closely resemble coral snakes — with red and black bands more similar in size — than did snakes collected in the 1970s, which tended to have larger black bands. He and Pfennig detected no such change in the Florida panhandle snakes over the same period. They report their results today in Biology Letters.
Well, it’s possible that they have interpreted what is happening completely wrong. Second, snakes are not very smart.
But Tom Sherratt, an evolutionary biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, is not so sure that scarlet kingsnakes’ mimicry will become sketchier over time. “Many of the predators — especially avian ones — are mobile and may visit locations where the model is present, which might explain why selection for mimicry still lingers.”
They’ve probably got it all wrong anyway, but birds do tend to be smarter than snakes …