• Aposematism;
  • hindwing coloration;
  • mark recapture;
  • startle display;
  • survival

1. Aposematic coloration in prey promotes its survival by conspicuously advertising unpalatability to predators. Although classical examples of aposematic signals involve constant presentation of a signal at a distance, some animals suddenly display warning colours only when they are attacked.

2. Characteristics of body parts suddenly displayed, such as conspicuous coloration or eyespot pattern, may increase the survival of the prey by startling the predator, and/or by signalling unpalatability to the predators at the moment of attack.

3. The adaptive value of such colour patterns suddenly displayed by unpalatable prey has not been studied. We experimentally blackened the red patch in the conspicuous red–white–black hindwing pattern displayed by an unpalatable insect Lycorma delicatula White (Hemiptera: Fulgoridae) in response to predator's attack.

4. There was no evidence that the presence of the red patch increased prey survival over several weeks. We hypothesise that predators generalised from the red–white–black patches on the hindwings of unpalatable L. delicatula to any similar wing display as a signal of unpalatability. Because a higher proportion of males than females stay put at their resting sites, displaying their wings in response to repeated attacks by predators, wing damage was more frequent in males than in females.

5. To our knowledge, this is the first experimental test of an adaptive role of aposematic signals presented by unpalatable prey during sudden displays triggered by direct predatory attack.