Tuesday, 12 February 2013

To Quiver or to Shiver: Explaining Warning Signal Diversity in Wood Tiger Moths


Feb. 8, 2013 — A central question in evolutionary biology is what causes the diversity of appearance seen in animals of the same species? Diversity is the raw material evolution has to act on, and this is why it is important to study the processes causing diversity. However, organisms that possess warning signals telling that they are unpalatable are not really expected to have very diverse forms of coloration. Such organisms are known as "aposematic," and a similar looking coloration which acts as a warning signal is a way to make sure that potential predators will recognize and avoid them. It is especially interesting to take a look at the cause of diversity in the appearance of aposematic species because it is not predicted.

To probe mechanisms that cause diversity in the appearance of wood tiger moths, researchers from the Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, studied how melanization in aposematic male wood tiger moths varied across Europe. They observed that male wood tiger moths were darker in the Alps and also in Northern Finland. Some previous work on other species indicated that more melanized butterflies and moths might have better ability to warm up more efficiently.

"Warming up in places like the Alps and Northern Finland is probably pretty important if you are a male moth trying to fly around to find the females," says researcher Robert Hegna.

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