• aposematism;
  • memory;
  • palatability spectrum;
  • quasi-Batesian mimicry


Inexperienced predators are assumed to select for similarity of warning signals in aposematic species (Müllerian mimicry) when learning to avoid them. Recent theoretical work predicts that if co-mimic species have unequal defences, predators attack them according to their average unpalatability and mimicry may not be beneficial for the better defended co-mimic. In this study, we tested in a laboratory environment whether a uniform warning signal is superior to a variable one in promoting predator learning, and simultaneously whether co-mimics are preyed upon according to their average unpalatability. There was an interaction of signal variation and unpalatability but inexperienced birds did not select for signal similarity in artificial prey; when the prey was moderately defended a variable signal was even learnt faster than a uniform one. Due to slow avoidance learning, moderately defended prey had higher mortality than highly defended prey (although this was not straightforward), but mixing high and moderate unpalatability did not increase predation compared with high unpalatability. This does not support the view that predators are sensitive to varying unpalatability. The results suggest that inexperienced predators may neither strongly select for accurate Müllerian mimicry nor affect the benefits of mimicry when the co-mimics are unequally defended.