Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 13, Issue 7–8, pp 619–639 | Cite as

Aposematism and Bioluminescence: Experimental evidence from Glow-worm Larvae(Coleoptera: Lampyridae)

  • Raphaël De CockEmail author
  • Erik Matthysen


Bioluminescence most likely evolved under selection from the visually guided behaviours of co-occurring organisms, in particular that of predators. Many possible functions of light signals have been proposed and some are supported, but whatever their function may be, they make an easy target of the emitter unless it is defended. Therefore, we want to emphasise that in many cases bioluminescence can only have evolved through a defensive function. If this were the case, one would expect multimodal adaptiveness of luminescence with at least some evidence for a defensive function. Light signals could be used in many ways to reduce predation, but for spontaneous glowing species in particular, aposematism seems the only functional strategy. In a preliminary experiment with glowing and non-glowing dummy prey, we found that wild-caught toads discriminated against glowing prey. They showed significantly lower attack responses and higher latencies towards glowing prey dummies. However, some of the toads were less reluctant because they did not distinguish initially between prey with or without the light stimulus. Since the toads were collected in areas abundant with lampyrid glow-worms, which is the only luminous organism at this locality, and our results concur with the general evidence that they may have had previous experiences with this prey, we attribute the result to luminescent aposematism. From the literature, and from our own experiments, we know that toads and many other potential predators experience lampyrids as disagreeable prey. In future experiments we will test whether glow-worms are defended by luminescent aposematism or not.

aposematism bioluminescence Bufo bufo defence evolution Lampyridae predation 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Group of Animal Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of Antwerp (U.I.A.)AntwerpBelgium

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