Florivory as an opportunity benefit of aposematism

Andrew D. Higginson*, Michael P. Speed, Graeme D. Ruxton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Inconspicuous prey pay a cost of reduced feeding opportunities. Flowers are highly nutritious but are positioned where prey would be apparent to predators and often contain toxins to reduce consumption. However, many herbivores are specialized to subvert these defenses by retaining toxins for their own use. Here, we present a model of the growth and life history of a small herbivore that can feed on leaves or flowers during its development and can change its primary defense against visual predators between crypsis and warning coloration. When herbivores can retain plant toxins, their fitness is greatly increased when they are aposematic and can consume flowers. Thus, toxin sequestration leading to aposematism may enable a significant opportunity benefit for florivory. Florivory by cryptic herbivores is predicted when toxins are very potent but are at high concentration only in flowers and not in leaves. Herbivores should usually switch to eating flowers only when large and in most conditions should switch simultaneously from crypsis to aposematism. Our results suggest that florivory should be widespread in later instars of small aposematic herbivores and should be associated with ontogenic color change. Florivory is likely to play an underappreciated role in herbivorous insect life histories and host plant reproductive success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)728-741
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Early online date1 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Flower-eating
  • Folivory
  • Camouflage
  • Crypsis
  • Sequestration
  • Toxins


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