Is there an intraspecific role for density-dependent colour change in the desert locust? Academic Article uri icon


  • Attempts to uncover the adaptive significance of density-dependent colour polyphenism in the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria (Orthoptera: Acrididae), have been unsuccessful. Desert locust juveniles can change colour as part of a phenotypically plastic response to changes in local population density known as phase polyphenism. They are typically cryptic in colour at low rearing density (solitarious phase), but become conspicuous at high density (gregarious phase). Recent evidence indicates that this colour change functions interspecifically as an aposematic signal. Other recent evidence, however, suggests that previous attempts to demonstrate an intraspecific function of gregarious coloration in mediating group interactions among locusts may have been confounded by the effects of multiple sensory cues. We reinvestigated the intraspecific function of density-dependent colour polyphenism and specifically controlled for potentially confounding olfactory and tactile cues. We found no effect of gregarious phase (yellow and black) coloration as either a gregarizing stimulus to behaviourally solitarious locusts or as a visual aggregation stimulus behaviourally to gregarious locusts. We did, however, find that nonmoving solitarious phase (green) coloration significantly increased the activity levels of behaviourally gregarious locusts. We cannot explain this result and its biological relevance remains unknown. In the absence of support for the intraspecific visual cue hypothesis, we favour an aposematic perspective on the function of density-dependent colour polyphenism in the desert locust. The aposematic perspective parsimoniously accounts for density-dependent changes in both colour and behaviour. Copyright 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

author list (cited authors)

  • Sword, G. A., & Simpson, S. J.

citation count

  • 20

publication date

  • April 2000