Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Short Sharp Science - Bright red ladybirds spell danger

Flora Graham, deputy editor,
(Image: Jan Stipala)

The bright red colour of this luscious ladybird is more than just a lucky omen - especially to predators. Its vibrancy indicates that it contains more poisonous toxins than its paler peers.
A richer red is linked to a good diet in early life, says new research from
Jon Blount of the University of Exeter, UK. Blount and his colleagues found that better-fed ladybirds are more visible - and more deadly. It's the first time that scientists have linked individual differences in a species' warning signals - such as the intensity of a specific ladybird's red hue - to levels of toxicity.
The researchers hand-reared ladybirds on different diets to measure how their food affects their looks and their defences.
Even if you're not a ladybird predator, the innocent-looking bug can have some brutal effects. Separate research published this week revealed that the invasive non-native harlequin ladybird is decimating European species.

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