• Aposematism;
  • iridoid glycosides;
  • polymorphism;
  • reproductive costs;
  • tritrophic interactions;
  • warning signals

Aposematic herbivores are under selection pressure from their host plants and predators. Although many aposematic herbivores exploit plant toxins in their own secondary defense, dealing with these harmful compounds might underlay costs. We studied whether the allocation of energy to detoxification and/or sequestration of host plant defense chemicals trades off with warning signal expression. We used a generalist aposematic herbivore Parasemia plantaginis (Arctiidae), whose adults and larvae show extensive phenotypic and genetic variation in coloration. We reared larvae from selection lines for small and large larval warning signals on Plantago lanceolata with either low or high concentration of iridoid glycosides (IGs). Larvae disposed of IGs effectively; their body IG content was low irrespective of their diet. Detoxification was costly as individuals reared on the high IG diet produced fewer offspring. The IG concentration of the diet did not affect larval coloration (no trade-off) but the wings of females were lighter orange (vs. dark red) when reared on the high IG diet. Thus, the difference in plant secondary chemicals did not induce variation in the chemical defense efficacy of aposematic individuals but caused variation in reproductive output and warning signals of females.