Environment Golden insects collaborate to warn off predators

Golden insects collaborate to warn off predators

A group of insects who mimick the golden sheen of other unpalatable insects in order to warn off predators is the largest in Australia, a new study has found.

Animals mimic signalling characteristics of other animals, particularly to convey that they are not nice to eat, say researchers from Macquarie University and Masaryk University (Czech Republic).

“The golden colour is not typically associated with warning colours, but despite the colours being attractive to our eye, for predators they serve as a warning that the thing they are going to attack is difficult to eat or nasty and so the predators avoid it,” said Masaryk University’s Professor Stano Pekar.

Most of the species in this complex are ants, but the mimics also include wasps, spiders, true bugs, beetles and a group of insects called leafhoppers.

“Animals that mimic another animal’s warning signals can reap the benefit of being left alone by predators even if they are otherwise undefended,” said Macquarie’s Professor Marie Herberstein.

The researchers found that very few of the common wild predators, including spiders, lizards and birds, ate the golden mimics.

“Most of these common predators avoided the mimics regardless of whether they were palatable or unpalatable to eat,” Professor Herberstein said.

“Therefore species with this gold colour without defences such as spines and foul-tasting chemicals can benefit by deceiving predators into thinking they are unpalatable.”

Read more about the findings of this study here. Story credit: Macquarie University newsroom.

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