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The pervasive risk of attack by natural enemies has favoured the evolution of a variety of anti-predator strategies. Protective colour patterns are arguably among the most widespread of these strategies, as they can reduce prey detection and/or warn predators that the prey is unpalatable. Colour patterns that resemble an animal’s background or mask an animal’s outline may reduce detection by predators. On the other hand, conspicuous colour patterns are used to advertise the distastefulness of an organism to visually searching enemies. However, these functions of colour patterns may not be mutually exclusive, as some colour patterns may combine warning coloration at a close range, with crypsis at a longer range. As a consequence, a diversity of colour patterns may derive from these different visual defense mechanisms. While the adaptive significance of these colour patterns are reasonably well documented, how their evolution has been shaped by ecological and life history factors is less clearly understood.

Colour patterns

The diversity of protective colours and colour patterns are arguably among the most obvious of these strategies, which may reduce prey detection, confuse predators or warn predators of the

prey's unpalatability.


Stick insect, Marmessoidea rosea

Image: Eunice Tan

Life History


Life history changes during an animal's development may be balanced against potential protective benefits, which are likely to change as the animal becomes larger and therefore more conspicuous.


Leaf beetle, Paropsisterna variicollis larvae of different instars

Image: Eunice Tan


The distribution of light in the habitat of an animal can vary depending on the vegetation, vegetation structure. This in turn affects the amount of light incident on the animal, and thus its perception by potential predators.


Tropical rainforest understory

Image: Eunice Tan

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