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Abstract

Many hosts of the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) exhibit egg recognition, and reject parasitic eggs. How do hosts discriminate cuckoo eggs from their own? Hosts might be able to recognize their own eggs using the specific pigment pattern on the outer eggshell surface, which may serve as a cue for recognition. We tested if patterns of egg pigments (spottedness) contain this information by manipulating spot density of great reed warbler eggs (Acrocephalus arundinaceus). We also manipulated the colour of eggs when the original spot pattern remained the same. Spot density (approximately 15–75%) did not significantly affect rejection rate (8–20% rejection), but when spots fully covered the eggs, i.e. the eggshell was plain dark brown, rejection rate increased abruptly to 100%. A loglinear model revealed the significant influence of colour on rejection rates, although there was no interactive effect between spottedness and colour. Our results strongly support the differential use of egg markers in host’s egg discrimination, suggesting that spot density has limited importance compared to eggshell colour.