Distance-dependent defensive coloration in the poison frog Dendrobates tinctorius, Dendrobatidae

James B. Barnett*, Constantine Michalis, Nicholas E. Scott-Samuel, Innes C. Cuthill

*Corresponding author for this work

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

54 Citations (Scopus)
427 Downloads (Pure)


Poison dart frogs provide classic examples of warning signals: potent toxins signaled by distinctive, conspicuous coloration. We show that, counterintuitively, the bright yellow and blue-black color of Dendrobates tinctorius (Dendrobatidae) also provides camouflage. Through computational modeling of predator vision, and a screen-based detection experiment presenting frogs at different spatial resolutions, we demonstrate that at close range the frog is highly detectable, but from a distance the colors blend together, forming effective camouflage. This result was corroborated with an in situ experiment, which found survival to be background-dependent, a feature more associated with camouflage than aposematism. Our results suggest that in D. tinctorius the distribution of pattern elements, and the particular colors expressed, act as a highly salient close range aposematic signal, while simultaneously minimizing detectability to distant observers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number201800826
Pages (from-to)6416-6421
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
Early online date4 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2018

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception


  • acuity
  • aposematism
  • camouflage
  • Dendrobatidae
  • distance


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