, Volume 63, Issue 8, pp 1127-1131
Date: 25 Mar 2009

Why do Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo Chalcites basalis eggs mimic those of their hosts?

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Abstract

The Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites basalis) egg closely matches the appearance of its host fairy-wren (Malurus spp.) eggs. Mimicry of host eggs by cuckoos is usually attributed to coevolution between cuckoos and hosts, with host discrimination against odd-looking eggs selecting for ever better mimicry by cuckoos. However, this process cannot explain Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo egg mimicry because fairy-wren hosts rarely reject odd-looking eggs from their nest. An alternative hypothesis is that cuckoos have evolved egg mimicry to disguise their eggs from other cuckoos. Female cuckoos remove one egg from the nest during parasitism and would potentially benefit by selectively removing any cuckoo egg that has already been laid in the nest because otherwise, their egg will be evicted by the first nestling cuckoo along with the host clutch. We used painted, non-mimetic eggs to test whether cuckoos selectively remove odd-looking eggs during parasitism. We found that they were no more likely to remove a non-mimetic egg from a superb fairy-wren Malurus cyaneus clutch than would be expected by chance. Thus, our study does not support the cuckoo egg replacement hypothesis to explain mimicry of host eggs by cuckoos.

Communicated by M. Soler