How signalling games explain mimicry at many levels: From viral epidemiology to human sociology

William Casey, Steven E. Massey, Bud Mishra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mimicry is exhibited in multiple scales, ranging from molecular, to organismal, and then to human society. 'Batesian'-type mimicry entails a conflict of interest between sender and receiver, reflected in a deceptive mimic signal. 'Müllerian'-type mimicry occurs when there is perfect common interest between sender and receiver in a particular type of encounter, manifested by an honest co-mimic signal. Using a signalling games approach, simulations show that invasion by Batesian mimics will make Müllerian mimicry unstable, in a coevolutionary chase. We use these results to better understand the deceptive strategies of SARS-CoV-2 and their key role in the COVID-19 pandemic. At the biomolecular level, we explain how cellularization promotes Müllerian molecular mimicry, and discourages Batesian molecular mimicry. A wide range of processes analogous to cellularization are presented; these might represent a manner of reducing oscillatory instabilities. Lastly, we identify examples of mimicry in human society that might be addressed using a signalling game approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200689
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number175
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Batesian mimicry
  • COVID-19
  • MAllerian mimicry
  • cue mimicry
  • mimicry ring
  • signalling game

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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