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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Mimicry in biscuits

I like a digestive biscuit.

When we were up in Scotland in June I was sent off to an unfamiliar supermarket with a list. I struggled to find everything on the list and was delighted to stumble across a familiar pile of distinctively wrapped biscuits after minutes of looking in many wrong places for them. What a relief!

It was only the next morning that I realised that these biscuits were not quite what I had assumed them to be. They were Tower Gate digestives not McVitie’s digestives.

The difference is obvious when you look carefully but I had seen a mostly red, partly blue, correctly sized and shaped, packet of biscuits with the word ‘Digestives’ in the right place and a partly eaten biscuit as an illustration and I had been ‘fooled’.

This reminded me of Batesian and Mullerian mimicry that I learned about at school and more so at university.

Batesian mimicry is when a tasty species of prey evolves to look like a nasty-tasting species of prey. Predators learn to associate the striking patterns or colours of the nasty-nasting species with a nasty taste and so they avoid things looking quite like them too – and that’s how the yummy species gains an evolutionary advantage.

Mullerian mimics are where two nasty-tasting species evolve to look more similar to each other to cash in on the combined advantage of getting the message across really strongly.

But neither of these types of biscuits, of digestive biscuits, has a nasty taste so they are not Batesian or Mullerian mimics. Opinions differed as to whether there was a difference in taste between the Tower Gate digestives which we had in the house and the McVitie’s digestives which, unfortunately, we did not have. Speaking as a person with huge and cultured experience of digestive biscuits I can quite categorically say that the two types of biscuit do not taste the same (though some, wrongly, claimed that they did). I can further say, that for me, and after all taste is a matter of taste, the McVitie’s biscuits are the superior item – their less tasty (to me at least) similar biscuits are perfectly palatable but not quite of the same excellence.

So I feel, quite strongly, that I, as a predator of digestive biscuits, was a victim of digestivian mimicry where a slightly less tasty species takes the general pattern and colouration of a more tasty species (of biscuit).

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