Distance-dependent aposematism and camouflage in the cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria jacobaeae, Erebidae)

James, B. Barnett, Innes Cuthill, Nick Scott-Samuel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
276 Downloads (Pure)


Defended prey often use distinctive, conspicuous, colours to advertise their unprofitability to potential predators (aposematism). These warning signals are frequently made up of salient, high contrast, stripes which have been hypothesized to increase the speed and accuracy of predator avoidance learning. Limitations in predator visual acuity, however, mean that these patterns cannot be resolved when viewed from a distance, and adjacent patches of colour will blend together (pattern blending). We investigated how saliency changes at different viewing distances in the toxic and brightly coloured cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria jacobaeae). We found that although the caterpillars’ orange-and-black stripes are highly salient at close-range, when viewed from a distance the colours blend together to match closely those of the background. Cinnabar caterpillars therefore produce a distance-dependent signal combining salient aposematism with targeted background matching camouflage, without necessarily compromising the size or saturation of their aposematic signal.
Original languageEnglish
Article number171396
Number of pages6
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2018

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception

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