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The truth is in the detail: predators attack aposematic prey with less aggression than other prey types

Yamazaki, Yuki; Pagani-Núñez, Emilio; Sota, Teiji; Barnett, Craig RA


Yuki Yamazaki

Teiji Sota

Craig RA Barnett


Aposematic organisms are often unprofitable to predators (e.g. because of defensive chemicals) which they advertise with a conspicuous signal (e.g. bright and conspicuous colour signals). Aposematism is thought to reduce predation of prey because the colour signal increases the ability of predators to learn, recognize and remember the prey’s defensive properties. The efficacy of aposematism has been extensively documented in laboratory studies, although its benefits seem to be harder to demonstrate in the field. In this study, we compared the levels of partial and overall predation among four prey types (undefended and cryptic, undefended and warning coloured, defended and cryptic, and aposematic prey). Overall, predation of warning coloured and defended (aposematic) prey was lower than the predation for cryptic and undefended prey; however, it was the same as predation of cryptic and defended prey. Moreover, aposematic prey had higher levels of partial predation (where prey was not wholly consumed by the predator) and lower attack intensities. This suggests that prey were being taste sampled, but also might be better able to survive attacks. Therefore, the benefits of aposematism may lie not only in reducing outright predation, but also in altering a predator’s post-attack behaviour, thus leading to greater escape opportunities and post-attack survival of prey. These results reinforce the importance of examining predation in more detail rather than simply examining attack rates.


Yamazaki, Y., Pagani-Núñez, E., Sota, T., & Barnett, C. R. (2020). The truth is in the detail: predators attack aposematic prey with less aggression than other prey types. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 131(2), 332-343.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 1, 2020
Online Publication Date Aug 31, 2020
Publication Date 2020-10
Deposit Date Nov 2, 2022
Journal Biological Journal of the Linnean Society
Print ISSN 0024-4066
Electronic ISSN 1095-8312
Publisher Linnean Society of London
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 131
Issue 2
Pages 332-343
Keywords aposematism, avian predation, chemical defences, “go-slow” predation, warning signals
Public URL