Coevolution, communication, and host chick mimicry in parasitic finches: Who mimics whom?

Mark E. Hauber, Rebecca M. Kilner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Why do brood parasitic Vidua nestlings mimic the intricate gape patterns of their hosts' young so precisely? The classic explanation is that mimicry is the outcome of a coevolutionary arms race, driven by host rejection of odd-looking offspring. Selection favors parasitic nestlings that converge on the host young's mouth markings, and simultaneously benefits hosts whose mouth markings diverge from those of the parasite. The outcome is highly elaborate mouth markings in host young that are accurately mimicked by parasite nestlings. Our review of recent work provides mixed support for this traditional view and, instead suggest that complex mouth markings function to stimulate adequate provisioning, rather than to signal species identity. Thus, similarly elaborate gape morphologies in hosts and parasites could have evolved through nestling competition for parental care. According to this view, and in contrast with existing hypotheses, it is host young that mimic parasitic offspring, in order to compete effectively for food.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-503
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Coevolution
  • Indigobirds
  • Parent-offspring conflict
  • Sibling rivalry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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