The blunt pole is not a source of more salient recognition cues than the sharp pole for the rejection of model eggs by American robins (Turdus migratorius)

Mark E. Hauber, Jeffrey P. Hoover, Oliver R. Rhodes, Rebecca L. Ducay, Daniel Hanley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hosts of obligate avian brood parasites can reduce the costs of raising parasitic offspring by rejecting foreign eggs from their nests. Rejecter hosts use various visual and tactile cues to discriminate between own and foreign eggs. The blunt pole hypothesis specifically states that avian-perceivable visual information at and around the broader pole of the eggshell contains more salient recognition cues than does the sharp pole of the same egg. The directional prediction is, therefore, that eggs painted non-mimetically on their blunt pole should more likely be rejected relative to those similarly painted on their sharp pole. This hypothesis had been experimentally tested and its predictions supported solely in mimetic avian host-parasite systems, with hosts producing denser and more variable eggshell maculation patterns at the blunt pole, and in one species with immaculate eggs but still with distinctly discernible blunt-pole specific colouration. Here we aimed to expand upon these previous works and assessed whether the blunt pole of model eggs contains more salient egg rejection cues, relative to the sharp pole, for the American robin (Turdus migratorius), a robust rejecter of non-mimetic brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) eggs. In this system host eggs are uniformly immaculate whereas the brood parasitic shell is maculated. We painted model cowbird-sized eggs on either the blunt or the sharp half to mimic the immaculate robin egg colours and the other half to resemble non-mimetic egg colours and patterns. There was no statistical support for the predicted outcomes of the blunt pole hypothesis in our trials as rejection rates were similar regardless of whether eggs were painted with non-mimetic colours on the blunt or sharp poles. Future work should test the role of asymmetrical signalling content for anti-parasitic rejection of eggs in additional host species, especially those with both immaculate own and mimetic parasitic eggs.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20111
JournalJournal of Vertebrate Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


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