Sexual signals for the colour-blind

Cryptic female mantids signal quality through brightness

Katherine L. Barry*, Thomas E. White, Darshana N. Rathnayake, Scott A. Fabricant, Marie E. Herberstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Cryptic coloration may evolve in response to selective pressure imposed by predators, yet effective intraspecific communication may require some level of detectability. This creates a tension between the benefits of sexually selected visual traits and the predatory costs imposed by greater conspicuousness, and little is known about how this tension may be ameliorated in highly cryptic species. We explore these competing demands in the false garden mantid Pseudomantis albofimbriata, a colour-blind and seemingly cryptic insect. We use reflectance spectrometry and receptor-noise modelling to characterize the conspicuousness of mantid body regions in the visual systems of mates (mantids), as well as potential predators (birds) and prey (bees). We then use condition manipulation and conspecific choice tests to further explore the colour traits of interest. Based on visual modelling, we find that male mantids are inconspicuous to conspecifics, prey and predators - that is, they are chromatically and achromatically cryptic. In contrast, female mantids are chromatically cryptic to all potential receivers, but their abdomens are achromatically conspicuous. Our food manipulation experiment shows that females in good condition (and therefore with more eggs) have brighter abdomens than females in poor condition. Choice assays show male mantids are consistently attracted to females bearing brighter abdomens. Our results reveal brightness-mediated sexual signalling in a colour-blind and classically cryptic insect. By communicating in the only visual channel available to them, female mantids are conspicuously signalling their quality to mates, while potentially minimizing their conspicuousness to predators and prey. Furthermore, by signalling with only a single body region, female mantids are apparently using coincident disruptive coloration to further decrease detectability to potential eavesdroppers. Our data reveal a novel example of the way in which the trade-off between sexual selection for conspicuousness and natural selection for crypsis may be mediated in a visual signalling system. Such signals may be common in apparently cryptic species, and this study once again demonstrates the importance of analysing visual signals beyond the capacity of human vision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-539
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Volume29
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015

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