CIE Seminar Series 2017 – Protective colouration and warning signalling of European vipers, and a bit of mimicry

SPEAKER: Dr Janne Valkonen, Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland

DATE: Friday, 31st March 2017
LOCATION: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds – room ka4.207
TIME: 1:30pm
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Melbourne Campus at Burwood – Burwood Corporate Centre (attendees-please report to reception on the day); and Warrnambool Campus, Room B3.03

External visitors – wish to join us and connect to our seminars?

  • You may connect to the live seminar via *N SEBE VMP LES Seminars [ID.36958] or via the methods listed HERE.
  • For Deakin staff and students, please join via Skype for Business (Lync).
  • Could not log in? More info on how to connect is available HERE.
  • Please note that connection is only available while a seminar is taking place.

As a courtesy, we request that when connecting to the seminar that you mute your microphone unless you are required to speak, this would ensure that the sound from the speaker to the audience is not disrupted by feedback from your microphone – thank you!

ABSTRACT: Camouflage and warning signalling have been conventionally treated as distinct strategies exploiting opposing ends of the detectability axis. Detectability and appearance of an animal are not only dependent on receiver´s vision and cognition, light conditions and background against which it is perceived, but it can be also altered by the animal’s behaviour. Thus, the protective function of animal colouration may be achieved via several mechanisms. Venomous European vipers appear hard to detect while coiled in basking posture. When detected they are easy to recognise because of their zigzag dorsal pattern. However, when approached by a potential enemy, vipers often flee. During escape, the zigzag pattern can make both movement speed and direction hard to estimate.

In this seminar I present field and laboratory experiments testing the function of vipers’ protective colouration before and after detection, and discuss findings can explain their inconspicuous warning colouration.

Some non-venomous species are mimicking venomous vipers in order to enhance their survival. Yet the natural advantage of repelling predators may be counteracted by humans inclined to kill species that they consider dangerous. I will introduce the case of the protected, endangered, non-venomous smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) that mimics the non-protected venomous viper (Vipera berus), both of which occur in the Åland archipelago, Finland.

Resemblance of vipers enhances survival of smooth snakes against predation because many predators avoid touching venomous vipers. Mimetic resemblance is however disadvantageous against human predators, who kill vipers and may accidentally kill harmless, endangered smooth snakes. Human induced costs may counterbalance benefits of viper-mimicry and it may not be beneficial anymore in human influenced habitats.

BIO: MSc. University of Jyväskylä 2011 / /PhD. University of Jyväskylä 2014. Current position: Postdoctoral researcher (2014 onwards) Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

I lost my hart to herpetology over 20 years ago and still reptiles and amphibians are my favourite. However, my main research interests are broadly in animal communication, behavioural ecology and predator prey interactions and I have been working with several study systems (e.g. lizards, snakes, frogs, moths, beetles, butterflies, birds, fish, human).

In addition to my main interests in behavioural ecology, I also just started a project studying biogeography and invasion status of Pelophylax frogs in Finland.

Appointments with guest speaker may be made via John.Endler.