Book on semiotics of mimicry by UT semiotician was published by influential scientific publishing house

Scientific publishing company Springer published the book by Estonian semiotician Timo Maran titled “Mimicry and Meaning: Structure and Semiotics of Biological Mimicry”, in which the author analyses existing mimicry models and suggests semiotic methods for the comparative research of mimicry cases.

Mimicry is the deceptive resemblance of an animal or plant species to another species or the surrounding environment in the nature. Mimicry is one of the core topics in biology, which has also been used as an argument to support Darwin’s theory of evolution. The popularity of the topic of mimicry has risen in recent decades because now there is more information on how the resemblances develop at the early stage of an organism.

“One example of mimicry is the similarity of the cuckoo’s egg to the eggs of the bird species in whose nest the cuckoo lays its eggs. The host parent cannot distinguish the cuckoo’s egg from its own clutch and therefore raises a cuckoo chick,” Maran gives an example and says that mimicry is indeed a very common phenomenon in wildlife. “Resemblances can be expressed in body patterns, sounds or chemical compounds and found in very different ecological communities,” the semiotician adds.

In the published book, mimicry is analysed from the aspect of semiotics as the deceptive resemblance of different signs and how such resemblance manifests in communication. “For example, I was interested in what the different possibilities of the resemblance of signs are for the mimicry to function, and how mimicry is affected by the perception and interpretation ability of the animal who is being deceived. I also wanted to know the possible role and importance of mimicry more broadly in the ecosystem,” Timo Maran describes the questions that motivated him to write the book.

This book is likely to be the first one in the world focusing on the semiotics of mimicry. “The most innovative part of my book is the description of the relationship between mimicry and the general semiotics of ecosystems. I demonstrate how mimicry uses natural conventions or ecological codes that join a large number of different species. A good example would be the characteristic features of snakes — body shape, sinuous movement, hiss — which a number of species, including the human beings, avoid or are scared of. However, certain species like tits, bumblebees and others have learned to use this sign complex and hiss in the event of danger,” Maran tells about the shared understanding between different species. 

Additional information: Timo Maran, 737 6139,

Viivika Eljand-Kärp
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