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A test of an antipredatory function of conspicuous plastron coloration in hatchling turtles
Evolutionary Ecology (2017)
  • Beth Reinke, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Ryan Calsbeek, Dartmouth College
  • Devi Stuart-Fox, The University of Melbourne
Bright colorations in animals are sometimes an antipredatory signal meant to startle, warn, or deter a predator from consuming a prey organism. Freshwater turtle hatchlings of many species have bright ventral coloration with high internal contrast that may have an antipredator function. We used visual modeling and field experiments to test whether the plastron coloration of Chrysemys picta hatchlings deters predators. We found that bird predators can easily distinguish hatchling turtles from their backgrounds and can easily see color contrast within the plastron. Raccoons cannot easily discriminate within- plastron color contrast but can see hatchlings against common backgrounds. Despite this, we found that brightly-colored, high contrast, replica turtles were not attacked less than low contrast replica turtles, suggesting that the bright coloration is not likely to serve an antipredatory function in this context. We discuss the apparent lack of innate avoidance of orange coloration in freshwater turtles by predators and suggest that preference and avoidance of colors are context-dependent. Since the bright colors are likely not a signal, we hypothesize that the colors may be caused by pigments deposited in tissue from maternal reserves during development. In most species, these pigments fade ontogeneti- cally but they may have important physiological functions in species that maintain the bright coloration throughout adulthood.
Publication Date
Winter March 3, 2017
Citation Information
Beth Reinke, Ryan Calsbeek and Devi Stuart-Fox. "A test of an antipredatory function of conspicuous plastron coloration in hatchling turtles" Evolutionary Ecology (2017)
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