Zoological Studies

Vol. 54, 2015

The function of body coloration of the hai coral snake Sinomicrurus japonicus boettgeri

Koji Mochida1*, Wan-Yu Zhang2 and Mamoru Toda1

1Tropical Biosphere Research Center, University of Ryukyus, Nishihara, Okinawa 903-0213, Japan
2Graduate School of Engineering and Science, University of Ryukyus, Nishihara, Okinawa 903-0213, Japan

Background: Prey animals often protect themselves from visual hunting predators via their body coloration, which encompasses various visual effects. When a prey animal displays a certain color pattern on its body surface, its protective function and effect are largely dependent on how a predator would encounter and perceive the prey animal. Asian coral snakes of the genus Sinomicrurus, which are venomous, display black bands and stripes on their orange body coloration. The banded pattern has been characterized as an aposematic signal in the New World coral snakes, but the stripes generally occur in cryptic snakes. We investigated the function of this complex color pattern, which might be interpreted as aposematic and cryptic, in Sinomicrurus japonicus boettgeri.
First, plasticine replica experiments were conducted to assess whether natural avian predators avoid the color pattern of S. japonicus boettgeri; the results showed that they attacked the coral snake replicas and the control replicas with coloration similar to another prey snake, suggesting that the body coloration of S. japonicus boettgeri did not function aposematically in the wild. Second, we evaluated the chromatic contrast of the snake coloration with backgrounds from their natural habitats based on the avian predator visual systems. The body coloration of S. japonicus boettgeri showed the same, or lower, contrast levels with natural backgrounds than those of sympatric cryptic snakes, suggesting that the coloration was ineffective as an aposematic signal.
Conclusions: These results imply that the body coloration of S. japonicus boettgeri would work as crypsis through background matching or disruptive camouflage rather than aposematism.

Key words: Aposematism; Disruptive coloration; Background matching; Coral snake mimicry.

*Correspondence: E-mail: kj.mochida@gmail.com