Royal Society Publishing

Pyrazine odour makes visually conspicuous prey aversive

Leena Lindström , Candy Rowe , Tim Guilford

Abstract

Unpalatable insects frequently adopt multimodal signals to ward off predators, incorporating sounds and odours into their colourful displays. Pyrazine is an odour commonly used in insect warning displays, and has previously been shown to elicit unlearned biases against common warning colours, e.g. yellow and red in naive predators. We designed two experiments to test for similar effects of pyrazine on the conspicuousness of prey, perhaps the most ubiquitous aspect of aposematic coloration. In the first experiment, we offered predators (Gallus gallus domesticus) a choice between conspicuous crumbs and cryptic crumbs in the presence or absence of pyrazine. In the second experiment, we manipulated the birds' experience of conspicuous prey during an initial training phase. Only in the presence of pyrazine did birds show a bias against conspicuously coloured food, and this occurred whether or not they had previously experienced food that contrasted with the background. This emergent behaviour relied upon the visual and odorous signal components being presented together. These unlearned, yet hidden, responses against conspicuousness demonstrate that there are initial benefits to prey being conspicuous when the multimodal nature of warning signals is accounted for.

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