Natural selection for apostasy and crypsis acting on the shell colour polymorphism of a mangrove snail, Littoraria filosa (Sowerby) (Gastropoda: Littorinidae)


  • David G. Reid

    1. Department of Zoology, School of Biological Sciences, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
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    • *Mollusca Section, Department of Zoology, British Museum (Natural History), London SW7 5BD.


Littoraria filosa (Sowerby) is a member of the L. scabra group, found amongst the foliage of mangrove trees in northern Australia. The colour of the shell is polymorphic, showing two discrete ground colours, either yellow or orange-pink, with a variable degree of superimposed brown patterning. At a site on Magnetic Island, northern Queensland, colour frequencies of small snails were similar on different backgrounds. Amongst larger shells yellows were more frequent on Avicennia trees with abundant foliage, and browns on relatively bare trees, suggesting that visual selection for crypsis occurred. There was no evidence of substrate selection by the morphs. Yellow shells were cooler than brown shells, but differences in colour frequencies on sunny and shaded trees, and at different seasons, did not suggest climatic selection. By manipulating the colour frequencies of subpopulations of small snails isolated on individual trees, it was shown that the disappearance of yellow and brown shells was frequency-dependent. This result is consistent with hypotheses of mimicry of background elements by the morphs and of apostatic selection by unknown predators. Only the latter can account for the persistence of the highly conspicuous pink morph at a low frequency.