Why so Toxic: How Coloration and Toxicity Evolve

By: Hailee Arena, Caitlin Swanson, Elizabeth Cravinho, and Matthew Healy (Stonehill College, BIO323: Evolution, Spring 2023)

Just like your ex, being toxic is not always obvious! Did you know that frogs can display warning signals that indicate their toxicity, known as aposematism? Aposematism is a strategy employed by organisms to advertise toxicity to deter predators through color patterns. While this is a common trait, conspicuous coloration does not always signal toxicity. What causes coloration to evolve? Can toxicity depend on other factors, such as body size or time of activity? Due to this knowledge gap between conspicuousness and toxicity, Drs. Roberts, Stuart-Fox, and Medina, from the University of Melbourne, conducted research titled, The evolution of conspicuousness in frogs: When to signal toxicity?, as published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. The researchers collected data on various frog species to determine whether toxicity is linked to coloration. They examined the chemical defenses in these species and sought to identify whether body size and daytime (diurnal) activity could be linked to conspicuousness in chemically defended frogs. Ultimately, the researchers hypothesized that the conspicuous coloration in diurnal species is directly related to toxicity.

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