Golden mimics use multiple defenses to counter generalist and specialist predators

Stano Pekár*, Martin J. Whiting, Marie E. Herberstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many prey species employ multiple defenses during interactions with predators. Multiple defenses can provide a selective advantage against a single predator at different stages of the interaction or attack, as well as against multiple predator types. However, the efficacy of multiple defenses both during different sequences of an attack and against multiple predator types, remains poorly understood. We measured and classified defensive traits used by five mimics (Müllerian and Batesian) of the myrmecomorphic golden mimicry complex and one non-mimetic species. We then performed predatory trials using two different predators that differed markedly in their body size, trophic specialization, and how they handle prey—one being an ant specialist (spider) and the other a generalist which avoided ants (skink). We identified 12 defensive traits and classified them into four groups (primary, chemical, mechanical, and behavioral), which were strongly correlated. Skinks were much less likely to attack and capture mimics than the ant-eating spider predators. Our results show that multiple defenses (five or six) were used against each predator. The defensive behaviors and features that were most effective against skinks included appendage waving and large body size, whereas the golden “shine” warning signal, large body size, cuticle thickness, and defensive gland size were most effective against spiders. Most defenses appeared to be predator-specific. We conclude that potential prey in the golden mimicry complex have been selected for multiple defenses because of their vulnerability to different predator types and consequently, the efficacy of some of these defenses likely represents a trade-off.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1055-1064
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
Early online date23 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • Araneae
  • Batesian mimicry
  • Formicidae
  • Heteroptera
  • multimodal signaling
  • Müllerian mimicry


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