Plant-derived visual signals may protect beetle herbivores from bird predators

Tamar Keasar, Miriam Kishinevsky, Avi Shmida, Yoram Gerchman, Nicka Chinkov, Avi Koplovich, Gadi Katzir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Insect herbivores often use chemical signals obtained from their food plants to deter enemies and/or attract sexual partners. Do plant-based visual signals act similarly, i.e., repel consumers' enemies and appeal to potential mates? We explored this question using the pollen-feeding beetle Pygopleurus israelitus (Glaphyridae), a specialized pollinator of Anemone coronaria's chemically defended red-morph flowers. We presented dead beetles, which had fed either on anemones or on cat food, to young domestic chicks on a red (anemone-like) or a green (leaf-like) background. We determined whether the beetles' background color and diet affected the chicks' feeding. Cuticle surface extracts from anemone-fed beetles, but not from cat food-fed beetles, contained a secondary metabolite characteristic of anemones. Latencies to the first picking up and consuming of beetles from green backgrounds were shorter than of beetles from red backgrounds. The picking up order of beetles also indicated that prey from the green background was preferred. The chicks retained this preference when re-tested, 3 days later. Handling times of anemone-fed beetles were longer than of cat food-fed beetles. A previous study showed that glaphyrids improve their mate-finding prospects by orienting to large red anemone flowers. Here, female beetles preferred cat food-fed to anemone-fed males in mate-choice assays, thus anemone-derived chemicals did not increase mating success. Instead, the combined results indicate that A. coronaria's red flowers provide a visual signal that may both deter its herbivore's predators and attract its mates. To our knowledge, this is the first experimental evidence for a potential protective role of plant-derived visual signals for insect herbivores/pollinators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1613-1622
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We thank Simcha Lev-Yadun, Patrick Bateson, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and the staff of Margolin House at Oranim for their technical support. The study was supported by an internal research grant from the Oranim College.


  • Domestic chick
  • Glaphyridae
  • Pollination
  • Predation
  • Secondary metabolite
  • Tritrophic interactions
  • Warning coloration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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