Interspecific and Intraspecific Views of Color Signals in the Strawberry Poison Frog Dendrobates Pumilio

J Exp Biol. 2004 Jun;207(Pt 14):2471-85. doi: 10.1242/jeb.01047.

Abstract

Poison frogs in the anuran family Dendrobatidae use bright colors on their bodies to advertise toxicity. The species Dendrobates pumilio Schmidt 1858, the strawberry poison frog, shows extreme polymorphism in color and pattern in Panama. It is known that females of D. pumilio preferentially choose mates of their own color morph. Nevertheless, potential predators must clearly see and recognize all color morphs if the aposematic signaling system is to function effectively. We examined the ability of conspecifics and a model predator to discriminate a diverse selection of D. pumilio colors from each other and from background colors. Microspectrophotometry of isolated rod and cone photoreceptors of D. pumilio revealed the presence of a trichromatic photopic visual system. A typical tetrachromatic bird system was used for the model predator. Reflectance spectra of frog and background colors were obtained, and discrimination among spectra in natural illuminants was mathematically modeled. The results revealed that both D. pumilio and the model predator discriminate most colors quite well, both from each other and from typical backgrounds, with the predator generally performing somewhat better than the conspecifics. Each color morph displayed at least one color signal that is highly visible against backgrounds to both visual systems. Our results indicate that the colors displayed by the various color morphs of D. pumilio are effective signals both to conspecifics and to a model predator.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anura / genetics
  • Anura / physiology*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Microspectrophotometry
  • Models, Biological*
  • Panama
  • Photoreceptor Cells / physiology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Skin Pigmentation / physiology*