Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 427–439 | Cite as

Importance of conspicuous colours in warning signals: the great tit’s (Parus major) point of view

  • Alena Cibulková
  • Petr Veselý
  • Roman Fuchs
Original Paper


Few studies have dealt with the importance of colours per se in warning signalling, with the use of a broader array of different colours. We tested the reactions of great tits (Parus major) to colour modifications (red, orange, yellow, white, blue, violet, and green) of the warning signal of the red firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus), preserving its typical black pattern. We used the edible Guyana spotted roach (Blaptica dubia) as the prey, each of which carried a paper sticker shield of a particular colour on its back. With such prey, the effects of the other traits of the red firebug (e.g. shape of the legs and antennae or chemical signals) on the birds’ reactions were removed. All of the conspicuous forms of the prey, possessing a black pattern, were protected against great tits better than the non-patterned brown control form. The level of protection decreased from those forms with colours similar to the model and commonly occurring in warning signals in nature (red, orange, yellow), through other conspicuous colours rarely occurring in warning signals in nature (white, violet, blue), to the colour which usually occurs as cryptic in nature (green). In the green form, repeated encounters were necessary to reach avoidance. Avoidance learning came to pass despite the fact that the presented prey was neither inedible nor distasteful.


Colour Warning signal Pattern Titmice Firebug Cockroach 



We thank Christopher Mark Steer and Peter Lemkin for the language improvement. We thank the Grant agency of the University of South Bohemia (159/2013/P) for financial support. Experiments carried out in this research comply with the current laws of the Czech Republic. Authors are licensed for catching and ringing birds (Bird Ringing Centre Prague No. 1004 and 1159), for animal experimentation (Czech Animal Welfare Commission No. 489/01) and for conducting laboratory experiments with titmice (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Licence No. 8809/2011-30). Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia has accredited breeding of titmice (Ministry of Agriculture, Licence No. 9103/2009-17210).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic

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