Pattern contrast influences wariness in naïve predators towards aposematic patterns

C. G. Halpin, O. Penacchio, P. G. Lovell, I. C. Cuthill, J. M. Harris, J. Skelhorn, C. Rowe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
50 Downloads (Pure)


An apparent and common feature of aposematic patterns is that they contain a high level of achromatic (luminance) contrast, for example, many warning signals combine black spots and stripes with a lighter colour such as yellow. However, the potential importance of achromatic contrast, as distinct from colour contrast, in reducing predation has been largely overlooked. Here, using domestic chicks as a model predator, we manipulated the degree of achromatic contrast in warning patterns to test if high luminance contrast in aposematic signals is important for deterring naïve predators. We found that the chicks were less likely to approach and eat prey with high contrast compared to low contrast patterns. These findings suggest that aposematic prey patterns with a high luminance contrast can benefit from increased survival through eliciting unlearned biases in naïve avian predators. Our work also highlights the importance of considering luminance contrast in future work investigating why aposematic patterns take the particular forms that they do.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9246
Number of pages8
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date8 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2020


  • Animal behaviour
  • Behavioural ecology


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