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Cryptic cuckoo eggs hide from competing cuckoos.


ABSTRACT: Interspecific arms races between cuckoos and their hosts have produced remarkable examples of mimicry, with parasite eggs evolving to match host egg appearance and so evade removal by hosts. Certain bronze-cuckoo species, however, lay eggs that are cryptic rather than mimetic. These eggs are coated in a low luminance pigment that camouflages them within the dark interiors of hosts' nests. We investigated whether cuckoo egg crypsis is likely to have arisen from the same coevolutionary processes known to favour egg mimicry. We added high and low luminance-painted eggs to the nests of large-billed gerygones (Gerygone magnirostris), a host of the little bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus). Gerygones rarely rejected either egg type, and did not reject natural cuckoo eggs. Cuckoos, by contrast, regularly removed an egg from clutches before laying their own and were five times more likely to remove a high luminance model than its low luminance counterpart. Given that we found one-third of all parasitized nests were exploited by multiple cuckoos, our results suggest that competition between cuckoos has been the key selective agent for egg crypsis. In such intraspecific arms races, crypsis may be favoured over mimicry because it can reduce the risk of egg removal to levels below chance.

SUBMITTER: Gloag R 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC4150317 | BioStudies | 2014-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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