New paper out!


"From masquerading to blending in: ontogenetic shifts in antipredator camouflage in Wallace’s flying frogs"

Susanne Stückler, Xavier I. Dawkins, Matthew J. Fuxjager & Doris Preininger


A diversity of defence colourations that shift over time provides protection against natural enemies. Adaptations for camouflage depend on an organism’s interactions with the natural environment (predators, habitat), which can change ontogenetically. Wallace’s flying frogs (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) are cryptic emerald green in their adult life stage, but juveniles are bright red and develop white spots on their back 1 month after metamorphosis. This latter conspicuous visual appearance might function as antipredator strategy, where frogs masquerade as bird or bat droppings so that predators misidentified them as inedible objects. To test this idea, we created different paraffin wax frog models—red with white spots, red without white spots, green, and unpainted—and placed them in equal numbers within a > 800 m2 rainforest house at the Vienna Zoo. This environment closely resembles the Bornean rainforest and includes several free-living avian predators of frogs. We observed an overall hit rate of 15.5%. A visual model showed that the contrast of red, green and control models against the background colouration could be discriminated by avian predators, whereas green models had less chromatic difference than red morphs. The attack rate was significantly greater for red but was reduced by half when red models had white spots. The data therefore supports the hypothesis that the juvenile colouration likely acts as a masquerade strategy, disguising frogs as animal droppings which provides similar protection as the cryptic green adult colour. We discuss the ontogenetic colour change as a possible antipredator strategy in relation to the different habitats used at different life stages.

Open Access Link to the publication on the website.