Nature’s Warning Signs


Certain members of the animal kingdom will go out of their way to inform others that they pose a danger. Some accomplish this through colour. This characteristic is called aposematism, a term introduced in 1890 by English zoologist Edward Bagnall Poulton. The word, as defined by Miriam Webster Dictionary, means “the use of a signal and especially a visual signal of conspicuous markings or bright colors by an animal to warn predators that it is toxic or distasteful.” Aposematism is derived from the Greek words apo for away and sema for sign.

Take for example, the skunk – its broad white stripe reminds others not to get too close, or else. The yellow-banded poison dart frog's graphic colours warn of the toxins its skin excretes. A wasp uses the same colours to signal a potential sting. And, the brighter the ladybug, the more toxic it is. Studies show that white, yellow, red and black are the most effective warning colours brandished by animals. In the same manner that traffic signs caution motorists, colourful animal markings are nature’s way of saying, Watch Out!


Mole's Breath

Geological Map (1874)