Carotenoid deprivation and beta-carotene's effects on male and female turtle color

John E. Steffen, Rhett Quigley, Ian Whibley, Kevin J. McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Carotenoid-colored integuments commonly function as sexually selected honest signals because carotenoid pigments can be costly to obtain, ingest, absorb, metabolize or transport before being deposited into the integument. As such, carotenoid pigmentation is often sexually dichromatic, with males being more colorful than females. Sexual dichromatism may also occur in ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths, which is visible to organisms who possess UV-sensitive photoreceptors. The stripes and spots of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) are carotenoid-based and reflect UV wavelengths. This research describes UV sexual dichromatism in painted turtles and shows how carotenoid deprivation changes spot and stripe color in male and female painted turtles. Adult turtles were fed a diet that was supplemented with carotenoids (i.e., C diet) or deprived of carotenoids (C-). Stripe and spot color were measured with UV–vis spectrometry, and blood was drawn from all turtles before and after the dietary treatment. HPLC analysis revealed five carotenoids (4 xanthophylls and beta-carotene) circulating in turtle blood. C-diet reduced yellow chroma and increased brightness of yellow and red stripes or spots, relative to the C diet, but there was no sexually dimorphic effect of carotenoid deprivation on color, nor did carotenoid deprivation affect UV reflectance. Carotenoid deprivation reduced all circulating carotenoids, but beta-carotene was the only pigment with a significant effect on post-experimental carotenoids, implying that changes in color were due in part to reduction in circulating levels of beta-carotene. Color generation appears to be complex in turtles and have dietary as well as non-dietary components.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110546
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part - B: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Beta-carotene
  • Color
  • Diet
  • Sexual dichromatism
  • UV

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Carotenoid deprivation and beta-carotene's effects on male and female turtle color'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this