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