Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Velvet ants share warning signals with their neighbours

North American velvet ants are one of the world’s largest complexes of mimics. Although these beautiful insects produce an intensely painful venom, neighbouring species still mimic each other’s many warning signals, a trait that effectively protects them all from predators

Monday 17 August 2015 17.00 BSTLast modified on Tuesday 18 August 201511.34 BST

A team of American scientists report they’ve discovered of one of the world’s largest complexes of mimics, New World velvet ants. These brilliantly-coloured insects produce an intensely painful venom, yet neighbouring species still resemble each other so closely that they are barely distinguishable, an unusual trait known as Müllerian mimicry.

Warning signals are directed at specific predators

Aposematism is an evolutionary phenomenon that is more commonly known as a “warning signal”. Aposematic signals are actually beneficial for both predator and prey, because both rely upon them to avoid potential harm. For this reason, warning signals are directed at a specific type of predator and are intended to prevent attack by advertising the bearer’s unpalatability or noxiousness.

There are a variety of warning signals, including conspicuous colours or colour patterns, sounds, odours or other traits that are difficult for would-be predators to overlook. Some types of warning signals appeal more strongly to the senses of one sort of predator than to another. For example, a visual warning, such as brilliant colouring, appeals more strongly to a bird than to a nocturnal colour-blind mammal. Since warning signals are such an effective anti-predator system, other creatures that share the same predators may also mimic them.

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