Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/288

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266
CHAP.
DARWINISM

to have acquired the power of feeding on corals and medusae; and the beautiful bands and spots and bright colours with which they are frequently adorned, may be either protective when feeding in the submarine coral groves, or may, in some cases, be warning colours to show that they themselves are poisonous and uneatable.

A remarkable illustration of the wide extension of warning colours, and their very definite purpose in nature, is afforded by what may now be termed "Mr. Belt's frog." Frogs in all parts of the world are, usually, protectively coloured with greens or browns; and the little tree-frogs are either green like the leaves they rest upon, or curiously mottled to imitate bark or dead leaves. But there are a certain number of very gaily coloured frogs, and these do not conceal themselves as frogs usually do. Such was the small toad found by Darwin at Bahia Blanca, which was intense black and bright vermilion, and crawled about in the sunshine over dry sand-hills and arid plains. And in Nicaragua, Mr. Belt found a little frog gorgeously dressed in a livery of red and blue, which did not attempt concealment and was very abundant, a combination of characters which convinced him that it was uneatable. He, therefore, took a few specimens home with him and gave them to his fowls and ducks, but none would touch them. At last, by throwing down pieces of meat, for which there was a great competition among the poultry, he managed to entice a young duck into snatching up one of the little frogs. Instead of swallowing it, however, the duck instantly threw it out of its mouth, and went about jerking its head as if trying to get rid of some unpleasant taste.[1]

The power of predicting what will happen in a given case is always considered to be a crucial test of a true theory, and if so, the theory of warning colours, and with it that of mimicry, must be held to be well established. Among the creatures which probably have warning colours as a sign of inedibility are, the brilliantly coloured nudibranchiate molluscs, those curious annelids the Nereis and the Aphrodite or sea-mouse, and many other marine animals. The brilliant colours of the scallops (Pecten)and some other bivalve shells are perhaps

  1. The Naturalist in Nicaragua, p. 321.