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Colour biases are a question of taste

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Candy Rowe, Dr John Skelhorn


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Unpalatable insects often advertise their defences to avian predators by conspicuous colours, such as red and yellow. Therefore, perhaps not surprisingly, birds tend to have unlearned biases against warningly coloured food. These biases are particularly evident when other components of insect warning displays, such as novel sounds and odours, are also present. We tested whether bitter taste, often associated with the defensive chemicals used by aposematic insects, can elicit or enhance specific colour aversions to red and yellow food in young domestic chicks, Gallus gallus domesticus. In our first experiment, subjects were given familiar brown chick crumbs sprayed with either a 0, 1, or 4% quinine solution. In each palatability treatment, chicks were then offered a choice of palatable crumbs that were coloured either red and green or yellow and green. Chicks attacked (pecked or ate) fewer red and yellow crumbs and more green crumbs with increasing quinine concentrations. Chicks also ate fewer red and yellow crumbs with increasing unpalatability, although there was no effect on the numbers of green crumbs eaten. In a second experiment, we gave chicks a colourless drop of either 0 or 0.3% quinine solution and found that this also produced similar attack biases against red and yellow as is in the first experiment. Taken together, these results show that birds use unpalatable taste to adapt their visual foraging decisions, which has consequences for the evolution and stability of mimicry systems, and also has implications for the pairing of colour and taste in psychological experiments. © 2004 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rowe C, Skelhorn J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Animal Behaviour

Year: 2005

Volume: 69

Issue: 3

Pages: 587-594

Print publication date: 01/03/2005

ISSN (print): 0003-3472

ISSN (electronic): 1095-8282

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.06.010


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