For years, evolutionary biologists have been puzzled by the paradox of aposematism. This is the evolutionary process that sees animals, like frogs, develop bright colors to warn potential predators that eating them will make them sick or even kill them.
It seems counterintuitive that such colors could evolve, as animals that stand out are usually the first to be caught and eaten, which prevents the evolution of even brighter colors from occurring. But a trio of evolutionary biologists has recently claimed to have solved this riddle.
In their study, published in the journal Science, Karl Loeffler-Henry, Changku Kang, and Thomas Sherratt conducted an analysis of the family tree of over 1,000 frog, salamander, and newt species.
Their approach involved breaking down the animals into five categories, rather than the usual two, in order to search for evidence of the evolution of aposematism. The categories were conspicuous, cryptic, partially conspicuous, fully conspicuous, and polymorphic.
The research team discovered that the ancestors of several species with aposematism had hidden colors or no color. In those with color, the ancestors had colors that could be displayed on demand, such as when fleeing or signaling.
This indicates that the evolution of aposematism is likely a step-wise process. In other words, a creature first develops some amount of color as a signaling mechanism, then a deterrent, such as warts that taste bad or venom that kills, and then more color, and so on.
Eventually, a creature such as the dart frog evolves. Rather than attract predators, its neon bright colors warn of the serious risks involved in attacking or eating it. Just touching the skin of such a frog can bring serious repercussions, such as swelling, nausea, and paralysis.
The researchers’ analysis of the family tree of these animals has provided evidence that the evolution of aposematism is a gradual and step-wise process, rather than one that is developed overnight.
The research team’s findings are not only fascinating from a biological perspective, but they also offer insight into how we can learn from nature to create sustainable solutions.
The study highlights the importance of taking small steps towards a goal, rather than trying to achieve everything at once. This is especially important when it comes to sustainability, as we need to work towards our goals in a way that is manageable and achievable.
The study of aposematism provides us with valuable insights into how evolution works and how we can learn from nature to create sustainable solutions. By taking small steps toward our goals, we can achieve success in a way that is manageable and sustainable.
The research team’s work is an excellent example of how studying nature can help us to understand the world around us and make positive changes for the future.
This article by Nicholas Vincent was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 31 May 2023.
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