Too hard to swallow: A secret secondary defence of an aposematic insect

Lu Yi Wang, Wen San Huang, Hsin Chieh Tang, Lung Chun Huang, Chung Ping Lin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Anti-predator strategies are significant components of adaptation in prey species. Aposematic prey are expected to possess effective defences that have evolved simultaneously with their warning colours. This study tested the hypothesis of the defensive function and ecological significance of the hard body in aposematic Pachyrhynchus weevils pioneered by Alfred Russel Wallace nearly 150 years ago. We used predation trials with Japalura tree lizards to assess the survivorship of 'hard' (mature) versus 'soft' (teneral) and 'clawed' (intact) versus 'clawless' (surgically removed) weevils. The ecological significance of the weevil's hard body was evaluated by assessing the hardness of the weevils, the local prey insects, and the bite forces of the lizard populations. The existence of toxins or deterrents in the weevil was examined by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). All 'hard' weevils were instantly spat out after being bitten once and survived attacks by the lizards. In contrast, the 'soft' weevils were chewed and subsequently swallowed. The results were the same regardless of the presence or absence of the weevil's tarsal claws. The hardness of 'hard' Pachyrhynchus weevils was significantly higher than the average hardness of other prey insects in the same habitat and the mean bite forces of the local lizards. The four candidate compounds of the weevil identified by GC-MS had no known toxic or repellent functions against vertebrates. These results reveal that the hardness of aposematic prey functions as an effective secondary defence, and they provide a framework for understanding the spatio-temporal interactions between vertebrate predators and aposematic insect prey.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan


  • Anti-predator strategy
  • Aposematism
  • Hardness
  • Japalura lizard
  • Pachyrhynchus weevil
  • Taiwan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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