Field estimates of survival do not reflect ratings of mimetic similarity in wasp-mimicking hover flies

Jennifer Lauren Easley, Christopher Hassall
  • Evolutionary Ecology, October 2013, Springer Science + Business Media
  • DOI: 10.1007/s10682-013-9678-3

What is it about?

We know that people can be tricked into thinking that harmless hoverflies are actually stinging wasps or bees - each year school playgrounds are evacuated when these harmless insects are reported! However, we understand less well how that deception works for birds. We examined a single trait - the number of stripes that an insect has - and its effect on how much a group a people thought the insect looked like a wasp or bee. We found (unsurprisingly) that the stripier an insect is the more people thought it looked like a wasp. However, when we tried to perform the same experiment with wild birds, the birds only seemed to care whether there were stripes - the number didn't matter.

Why is it important?

It is easy for people to impute their own perception of the world onto scientific questions. We provide evidence for a mismatch between what we think is going on in nature based on what we see and understand, versus the reality as experienced by the real world predator. It is vitally important that we maintain the "ecological relevance" of our work by focusing on the actual animals involved, and only use ourselves as proxies when we have good evidence that our perception matches-up with that of the animal(s) we are trying to study.


Dr Christopher Hassall
University of Leeds

This paper was a great effort by Jenny Easley, an undergraduate student working with me at the time. The combination of the ratings and the experiments led to some interesting findings.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Christopher Hassall