Is the hibiscus harlequin bug aposematic? The importance of testing multiple predators

Scott A. Fabricant*, Carolynn L. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)
    22 Downloads (Pure)


    Aposematism involves predators learning conspicuous signals of defended prey. However, prey species utilize a wide range of chemical (or physical) defenses, which are not likely to be equally aversive to all predators. Aposematism may therefore only be effective against a physiologically sensitive subset of potential predators, and this can only be identified through behavioral testing. We studied the emerging model organism Tectocoris diophthalmus (Heteroptera: Scutelleridae), an aposematically colored but weakly defended shieldback stinkbug, to test the efficacy of its defenses against a suite of predator types. We predicted the bugs' defenses would be ineffectual against both experienced and naïve birds but aversive to predaceous insects. Surprisingly, the opposite pattern was found. Both habituated wild passerines and naïve chickens avoided the bugs, the chickens after only one or two encounters. To avian predators, T. diophthalmus is aposematic. However, praying mantids showed no repellency, aversion, or toxicity associated with adult or juvenile bugs after multiple trials. Comparison with prior studies on mantids using bugs with chemically similar but more concentrated defenses underscores the importance of dose in addition to chemical identity in the efficacy of chemical defenses. Our results also emphasize the importance of behavioral testing with multiple ecologically relevant predators to understand selective pressures shaping aposematic signals and chemical defenses. We tested the defenses of the aposematically colored hibiscus harlequin bug against multiple predatory taxa. We predicted based on the literature that arthropods would be repelled while defenses would not be effective against birds. Experiment showed the opposite pattern, wherein birds learned avoidance and predaceous arthropod were unaffected.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)113-120
    Number of pages8
    JournalEcology and Evolution
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright 2013 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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