Aposematic coloration, luminance contrast, and the benefits of conspicuousness

Kathleen L. Prudic, Ana K. Skemp, Daniel R. Papaj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Many organisms use warning, or aposematic, coloration to signal their unprofitability to potential predators. Aposematically colored prey are highly visually conspicuous. There is considerable empirical support that conspicuousness promotes the effectiveness of the aposematic signal. From these experiments, it is well documented that conspicuous, unprofitable prey are detected sooner and aversion learned faster by the predator as compared with cryptic, unprofitable prey. Predators also retain memory of the aversion longer when prey is conspicuous. The present study focused on the elements of conspicuousness that confer these benefits of aposematic coloration. Drawing on current understanding of animal vision, we distinguish 2 features of warning coloration: high chromatic contrast and high brightness, or luminance, contrast. Previous investigations on aposematic signal efficacy have focused mainly on the role of high chromatic contrast between prey and background, whereas little research has investigated the role of high luminance contrast. Using the Chinese mantid as a model predator and gray-painted milkweed bugs as model prey, we found that increased prey luminance contrast increased detection of prey, facilitated predator aversion learning, and increased predator memory retention of the aversive response. Our results suggest that the luminance contrast component of aposematic coloration can be an effective warning signal between the prey and predator. Thus, warning coloration can even evolve as an effective signal to color blind predators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-46
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Insect vision
  • Mantid
  • Predation
  • Tenodera aridifolia sinensis
  • Warning display

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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