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Evolution. 2008 Apr;62(4):984-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00338.x. Epub 2008 Feb 4.

Why does the yellow-eyed Ensatina have yellow eyes? Batesian mimicry of Pacific newts (genus Taricha) by the salamander Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica.

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University of California, Santa Cruz, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Earth and Marine Sciences, Room A316, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA.


Color patterns commonly vary geographically within species, but it is rare that such variation corresponds with divergent antipredator strategies. The polymorphic salamander Ensatina eschscholtzii, however, may represent such a case. In this species, most subspecies are cryptically colored, whereas E. e. xanthoptica, the Yellow eyed ensatina, is hypothesized to be an aposematic mimic of highly toxic Pacific newts (genus Taricha). To test the mimicry hypothesis, we conducted feeding trials using Western Scrub-Jays, Aphelocoma californica. In every feeding trial, we found that jays, following presentation with the presumed model (T. torosa), were more hesitant to contact the presumed mimic (E. e. xanthoptica) than a control subspecies lacking the postulated aposematic colors (E. e. oregonensis). The median time to contact was 315 sec for the mimic and 52 sec for the control. These results support the mimicry hypothesis, and we suggest that E. e. xanthoptica is likely a Batesian mimic, rather a Müllerian or quasi-Batesian mimic, of Pacific newts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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