Scared by shiny? The value of iridescence in aposematic signalling of the hibiscus harlequin bug

Scott A. Fabricant*, Alice Exnerová, Dana Ježová, Pavel Štys

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Studies on aposematism have generally focused on the benefits of red or yellow coloration, occasionally in contrast with green or brown, but rarely blue or orange. Furthermore, almost no studies have explicitly studied the utility of iridescent coloration in aposematism. To evaluate the survival benefit of iridescent coloration, we tested the ability of the natural colour extremes of Tectocoris diophthalmus jewelbugs to induce initial avoidance, learned avoidance, discrimination from palatable alternatives and broad generalization against avian predators: naïve hand-reared and experienced wild-caught great tits, Parus major. Artificial baits were created by hollowing out bugs and inserting pieces of mealworm. Preference tests presented iridescent and orange baits simultaneously, then birds were divided into training groups and sequentially exposed to palatable black baits alternated with iridescent or orange baits made unpalatable by soaking mealworms in quinine solution. This was followed by simultaneous black/coloured discrimination tests, then a generalization test with both previously experienced and novel baits (all palatable). All groups showed a preference for orange baits over ones with iridescent patches. For wild-caught birds, attack latencies of iridescent and orange training groups were statistically indistinguishable, although only orange caused increased attack latency over the sequence. Hand-reared birds showed no change in attack rate/latency towards iridescent bugs over the sequence. In postlearning discrimination tests, all groups showed equally strong preference for palatable black baits and their unpalatable training baits. In generalization tests, hand-reared birds were most averse towards trained baits, but increased avoidance of iridescent-and-black baits suggests iridescence alone can contribute to aposematism. Wild-caught birds showed strong aversion to iridescent and novel orange-and-black baits regardless of training, suggesting birds may be broadly generalizing experience from local red-and-black aposematic bugs. Results suggest iridescent coloration and patterning can be an effective aposematic signal, especially in the presence of alternative palatable prey and/or other aposematic species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-325
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


  • Aposematism
  • Avoidance learning
  • Colour variation
  • Generalization
  • Heteroptera
  • Innate wariness
  • Iridescence
  • Parus major
  • Scutelleridae


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