, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 539-544

Chemical defense and aposematic coloration in larvae of the ascidian Ecteinascidia turbinata

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In the coastal waters of Florida (USA) tadpole larvae of the colonial ascidian Ecteinascidia turbinata contain chemicals which make them unpalatable to planktivorous juvenile pinfish Lagodon rhomboides. Experiments demonstrate that the bright organe color of E. turbinata tadpoles is aposematic. Fish that have recently tasted larvae of E. turbinata will not attack the palatable tadpoles of Clavelina oblonga when the latter are dyed organe to resemble larvae of E. turbinata. Tadpoles of E. turbinata that have been mouthed and rejected by fish generally survive to complete a normal metamorphosis. Individual selection explains the evolution of aposematic coloration in E. turbinata better than kin selection. The identity of the defensive chemical is unknown. The unpalatable substance in larvae of E. turbinata is removed by dialysis, indicating that it has a molecular weight less than 14000 d. Larvae are not acidic, nor is the active substance denatured by doiling.
Communicated by J.M. Lawerence, Tampa