Examining the role of color in mate choice without testing what colors the study animal is capable of seeing can lead to ill-posed hypotheses and erroneous conclusions. Here, we test the seemingly reasonable assumption that the sexually dimorphic red coloration of the male jumping spider Saitis barbipes is distinguishable, by females, from adjacent black color patches. Red patches would be, at best, barely discriminable from black, and not discriminable from a low-luminance green. Some color patches that appear achromatic to human eyes, such as beige and white, strongly absorb UV wavelengths and would appear as brighter “spider-greens” to S. barbipes than the red color patches. Unexpectedly, we discover an iridescent UV patch that contrasts strongly with the UV-absorbing surfaces dominating the rest of the spider. We propose that red and black coloration may serve identical purposes in sexual signaling, functioning to generate strong achromatic contrast with the visual background.
(Photo: Kaldari via Wikimedia Commons)