Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 249–255 | Cite as

On the function of warning coloration: a black and yellow pattern inhibits prey-attack by naive domestic chicks

  • Werner Schuler
  • Elke Hesse


Young chicks were offered a choice of warningly coloured black and yellow and non-warningly coloured green (or olive) prey. Unfed chicks were given palatable painted mealworms on their first day. They directed their first peck at both colour types at the same probability; however, they ate the warningly coloured ones at a much lower rate. This is due to an inhibition of attack which becomes effective after pecking. Chicks which were a few days old showed the same behaviour. Since the control prey was in this case painted with an olive mixture containing the same colours as the warningly coloured mealworms, it can be concluded that the inhibition is caused by the black and yellow coloration. With accumulating positive experience of the chicks, the inhibition decreased. For permanent avoidance it must therefore be supplemented by unpleasant experience. Accordingly, chicks handled the unpalatable black and yellow ringed caterpillars of Tyria jacobaeae only a few times and always for a short period when offered repeatedly. The inhibition caused by the black and yellow pattern is attributed to a genetically fixed predisposition to avoid warningly coloured black and yellow prey which is the result of evolutionary adaptation.


Colour Type Yellow Coloration Colour Green Positive Experience Evolutionary Adaptation 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Werner Schuler
    • 1
  • Elke Hesse
    • 1
  1. 1.H. Zoologisches Institut der UniversitätGöttingenFederal Republic of Germany

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