Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cuckoo tricks to beat the neighborhood watch

Date:
August 2, 2012
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
To minimize the chance of being recognized and thus attacked by the birds they are trying to parasitize, female cuckoos have evolved different guises.

Common Cuckoo in flight, Cuculus canorus.
Credit: FLORIAN ANDRONACHE / Fotolia

To minimise the chance of being recognised and thus attacked by the birds they are trying to parasitize, female cuckoos have evolved different guises. The new research, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, was published August 3, in the journal Science.

Related Articles


The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. On hatching, the young cuckoo ejects the host's eggs and chicks from the nest, so the hosts end up raising a cuckoo chick rather than a brood of their own. To fight back, reed warblers (a common host across Europe) have a first line of defence: they attack, or 'mob', the female cuckoo, which reduces the chance that their nest is parasitized.

Some female common cuckoos are grey and hawk-like, and previous research has shown that their resemblance to hawks reduces host bird attack. However, other females are bright rufous (brownish-red). The presence of alternate colour morphs in the same species is rare in birds, but frequent among the females of parasitic cuckoo species. The new research shows that this is another cuckoo trick: cuckoos combat reed warbler mobbing by coming in different guises.

Cuckoos are secretive. To widen their source of information about local cuckoo activity, reed warblers eavesdrop on the mobbing behaviour of their neighbours. In the study, the researchers manipulated local frequencies of the more common grey colour cuckoo and the less common (in the United Kingdom) rufous colour cuckoo by placing models of the birds at neighbouring nests. They then recorded how the experience of watching neighbours mob changed reed warbler responses back at their own nest.

They found that reed warblers increased their mobbing, but only to the cuckoo morph that their neighbours had mobbed. Therefore, as one cuckoo morph increases in frequency, local host populations will become alerted specifically to that morph. This means the alternate morph will be more likely to slip past host defences and lay undetected. This is the first time that 'social learning' has been documented in the evolution of mimicry as well as the evolution of different observable characteristics -- such as colour -- in the same species (called polymorphism).

Dr Rose Thorogood, of the University of Cambridge and co-author on the paper, said: "When mimetic disguises become less effective, evolving a polymorphism can be a successful trick. Our research shows that individuals assess disguises not only from personal experience, but also by observing others. However, because their learning is so specific, this social learning then selects for alternative cuckoo disguises and the arms race continues."

Professor Nick Davies, of the University of Cambridge and co-author on the paper, added: "It's well known that cuckoos have evolved various egg types which mimic those of their hosts in order to combat rejection. This research shows that cuckoos have also evolved alternate female morphs to sneak through the hosts' defences. This explains why many species which use mimicry, such as the cuckoo, evolve different guises."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rose Thorogood and Nicholas B. Davies. Cuckoos Combat Socially Transmitted Defenses of Reed Warbler Hosts with a Plumage Polymorphism. Science, 3 August 2012: 578-580 DOI: 10.1126/science.1220759

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Cuckoo tricks to beat the neighborhood watch." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120802141525.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2012, August 2). Cuckoo tricks to beat the neighborhood watch. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120802141525.htm
University of Cambridge. "Cuckoo tricks to beat the neighborhood watch." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120802141525.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

Buzz60 (Dec. 17, 2014) Urbanspoon predicts whicg food trends will dominate the culinary scene in 2015. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) NASA's Curiosity rover detected methane on Mars and organic compounds on the surface, but it doesn't quite prove there was life ... yet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins