Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 59–72 | Cite as

No honesty in warning signals across life stages in an aposematic bug

  • Iliana MedinaEmail author
  • Thomas Wallenius
  • Megan Head
Original Paper


Theory predicts that warning signals should exhibit low variation to increase learning efficiency in predators. Many species, however, exhibit variation in warning colours within species and even within populations. An understudied example of within species variation is that between life stages, where animals change warning colouration throughout ontogeny. Understanding how warning signals change throughout life can help us identify the different ecological pressures that affect the evolution of warning signals. We used the Australasian cotton harlequin bug (Tectocoris diophthalmus) to explore how adults and nymphs differ in their defensive secretions and colouration. We performed spectrophotometric colour measurements and toxicity bioassays. Our results show, overall, no consistent association between colour and toxicity within species. There was no clear pattern for females and nymphs. Adult males, however, present the highest contrast against backgrounds, highest internal contrast, and highest toxicity. There was no association between colour and toxicity within males, nymphs or females. Our results suggest weak signal honesty in warning signals across life stages and sexes, and demonstrate that variation in colour within species is not necessarily linked to changes in toxicity.


Aposematism Ontogeny Toxicity Predation Colour 



We would like to thank University of Melbourne for funding awarded to I.M. and the British Ecological Society for funding awarded to I.M and M.L.H. We would also like to thank Constanza León, Daniela Perez, Lina María Arenas, Devi Stuart-Fox, Scott Fabricant, Emily Burdfield-Steel, Phillip Lincoln Erm and Ben Phillips for help with information on the bug, advice on experimental design, access to Daphnia, and help with toxicity assays.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10682_2019_10025_MOESM1_ESM.xls (50 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLS 50 kb)
10682_2019_10025_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (1 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 1035 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BioSciencesUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Ecology and EvolutionAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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