We are all phenotypes! A phenotype is what is produced by the interaction of our genetic code (genotype) with the environment. That is, the environment in the fullest sense of the word; i.e. all of the biological and non-biological things that surround us from the moment we start to develop; from egg to adult. Males and females are different phenotypes, and they often differ considerably from each, in more ways than one! It’s called sexual dimorphism.
What results from this interaction of genes and the material world, is you, me, your pet cat, the butterfly flying past on a summer’s day, and every living creature on planet earth! And what is created by this confluence of genetic code with the material world, can vary considerably.
We see it very clearly in the case of butterflies. Many butterfly species have different forms, or morphs, which are produced from the same genome. Sometimes, the differences are subtle, like the shape and colour patterns of the wing, or different visual abilities; but in other cases the phenotypes (or ‘forms’) look very different indeed. These forms have often evolved in female butterflies, as a way of protecting themselves from predation. In these so-called, mimetic forms, they have evolved to look like other, poisonous or unpalatable species, to gain a degree of protection.
One example, is the common mime which has two, very distinct mimetic forms (in both sexes). One form, the so-called nominate form (because it was the first one to be described), is called Papilio clytia form clytia (see below), and is said to mimic the common crow (Euploea core). I tend to take these mimicry claims with a pinch of salt. Mimicry of one sort or another is certainly going on, but there are many similar species and I think the situation is more fluid than we often realise.
Here is a common crow (Euploea core possibly E. core haworthi) from Bali (below). Perhaps it is worth saying that the ‘crow’ butterflies are inedible and therefore mimicked by other butterflies (see Batesian mimicry). Both model and mimic are the same shade of brown!
The other phenotype of the common mime is called form dissimilis (below), which is said to mimic the blue tiger (Tirumala limniace) (second below).
I think that form dissimilis is probably is a rather generalised mimic of the so-called ‘tiger’ butterflies, probably an ‘imperfect mimic; (see Quick, 2017). So, perhaps it gains protection from many Tigers! Such as the Blue Glassy Tiger the Dark Glassy Tiger (below), and others as well.
So to conclude, nature is complicated, messy and fluid. It is forever shifting; changing to circumstances as the occur; genomes interacting with the environment to produce different forms. Or as Darwin put it: “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Quicke, D. L. (2017). Mimicry, crypsis, masquerade and other adaptive resemblances. John Wiley & Sons.
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.