STRAY NOTES ON MIMICRY.
Prof. Newton's limitation of mimicry to the status of unconscious resemblance (cf. Zool. 1899, p. 529) is in accord with that prevailing tone of thought which denies to the lower animals the power of abstract reasoning so constantly evident in man. I hope that Mr. Distant will not conclude his highly interesting treatment of the mimetic faculty without some reference to vocal mimicry, for this demonstrates (as it would seem, beyond dispute) the occurrence of a desire on the part of certain animals to do something that another animal is doing or has done, solely for the purpose of mimicking it. The Parrot is a common instance; but the Starling is, I think, a better one, since the studies of the latter bird are purely voluntary, and have no possible reference to the furnishing of a supply of food by a human owner. The Sedge-Warbler, with its construction of novel strains by the repetition of some notes of other birds in a set order, is another instance of a bird exhibiting a voluntarily exercised mimetic faculty. If a bird's mimicry is unconscious, then all its other actions may be unconscious, and the creature an automaton, which is absurd, except on the hypothesis that man also is one. But we must not hastily assume that similarity of action indicates mimicry; it may suggest inheritance as the governing factor. Take the case of the hissing of nesting birds. The hissing of these birds seems generally to be the ultimate expression of hate and rage, and to have no intended reference or similarity to that great enemy of the nest—the snake; for a bird will hiss when on the nest, and at no other time, and which has yet never seen a snake, or, apparently, never heard a hiss: such is a town-bred fowl or duck. The Blue Tit, again, hisses
- This has been referred to. Cf. Zool. 1889, p. 476.—Ed.
- I have everywhere noticed that in expressing rage birds tend to revert to generic cries. Young children, in the same mental trouble, perform some Monkey-like actions, and utter cries like those of Monkeys.