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Concept: Antipredator adaptation


Animals use a variety of escape mechanisms to increase the probability of surviving predatory attacks. Antipredator defenses can be elaborate, making their evolutionary origin unclear. Trap-jaw ants are known for their rapid and powerful predatory mandible strikes, and some species have been observed to direct those strikes at the substrate, thereby launching themselves into the air away from a potential threat. This potential escape mechanism has never been examined in a natural context. We studied the use of mandible-powered jumping in Odontomachus brunneus during their interactions with a common ant predator: pit-building antlions. We observed that while trap-jaw ant workers escaped from antlion pits by running in about half of interactions, in 15% of interactions they escaped by mandible-powered jumping. To test whether escape jumps improved individual survival, we experimentally prevented workers from jumping and measured their escape rate. Workers with unrestrained mandibles escaped from antlion pits significantly more frequently than workers with restrained mandibles. Our results indicate that some trap-jaw ant species can use mandible-powered jumps to escape from common predators. These results also provide a charismatic example of evolutionary co-option, where a trait that evolved for one function (predation) has been co-opted for another (defense).

Concepts: Ants, Odontomachus bauri, Antipredator adaptation, Symbiosis, Ecology, Odontomachus, Predation, Ant


Although biologists routinely label animals as predators and prey, the ecological role of individuals is often far from clear. There are many examples of role reversals in predators and prey, where adult prey attack vulnerable young predators. This implies that juvenile prey that escape from predation and become adult can kill juvenile predators. We show that such an exposure of juvenile prey to adult predators results in behavioural changes later in life: after becoming adult, these prey killed juvenile predators at a faster rate than prey that had not been exposed. The attacks were specifically aimed at predators of the species to which they had been exposed. This suggests that prey recognize the species of predator to which they were exposed during their juvenile stage. Our results show that juvenile experience affects adult behaviour after a role reversal.

Concepts: Antipredator adaptation, Ecology, Crypsis, Predation


Tourism can be deleterious for wildlife because it triggers behavioral changes in individuals with cascading effects on populations and communities. Among these behavioral changes, animals around humans often reduce their fearfulness and antipredator responses towards humans. A straightforward prediction is that habituation to humans associated with tourism would negatively influence reaction to predators. This could happen indirectly, where human presence decreases the number of natural predators and thus prey become less wary, or directly, where human-habituated individuals become bolder and thus more vulnerable to predation. Building on ideas from the study of traits associated with domestication and urbanization, we develop a framework to understand how behavioral changes associated with nature-based tourism can impact individual fitness, and thus the demographic trajectory of a population.

Concepts: Cat, Antipredator adaptation, Crypsis, Biological pest control, Chimpanzee, Ecology, Demography, Predation


One of the core features of human speech is that words cause listeners to retrieve corresponding visual mental images. However, whether vocalizations similarly evoke mental images in animal communication systems is surprisingly unknown. Japanese tits (Parus minor) produce specific alarm calls when and only when encountering a predatory snake. Here, I show that simply hearing these calls causes tits to become more visually perceptive to objects resembling snakes. During playback of snake-specific alarm calls, tits approach a wooden stick being moved in a snake-like fashion. However, tits do not respond to the same stick when hearing other call types or if the stick’s movement is dissimilar to that of a snake. Thus, before detecting a real snake, tits retrieve its visual image from snake-specific alarm calls and use this to search out snakes. This study provides evidence for a call-evoked visual search image in a nonhuman animal, offering a paradigm to explore the cognitive basis for animal vocal communication in the wild.

Concepts: Snake scales, Sensory system, Cat, Animal communication, Antipredator adaptation, Predation, Reptile, Carnivore


Camouflage is perhaps the most widespread defence against predators in nature and an active area of interdisciplinary research. Recent work has aimed to understand what camouflage types exist (e.g. background matching, disruptive, and distractive patterns) and their effectiveness. However, work has almost exclusively focused on the efficacy of these strategies in preventing initial detection, despite the fact that predators often encounter the same prey phenotype repeatedly, affording them opportunities to learn to find those prey more effectively. The overall value of a camouflage strategy may, therefore, reflect both its ability to prevent detection by predators and resist predator learning. We conducted four experiments with humans searching for hidden targets of different camouflage types (disruptive, distractive, and background matching of various contrast levels) over a series of touch screen trials. As with previous work, disruptive coloration was the most successful method of concealment overall, especially with relatively high contrast patterns, whereas potentially distractive markings were either neutral or costly. However, high contrast patterns incurred faster decreases in detection times over trials compared to other stimuli. In addition, potentially distractive markings were sometimes learnt more slowly than background matching markings, despite being found more readily overall. Finally, learning effects were highly dependent upon the experimental paradigm, including the number of prey types seen and whether subjects encountered targets simultaneously or sequentially. Our results show that the survival advantage of camouflage strategies reflects both their ability to avoid initial detection (sensory mechanisms) and predator learning (perceptual mechanisms).

Concepts: Effectiveness, Frog, Learning, Optimal foraging theory, Hunting, Antipredator adaptation, Crypsis, Predation


Tephritid pests controlled through the sterile insect technique (SIT) are mass-reared and subsequently released in affected areas. Several quality parameters are currently used to test adults, but none take into account interactions with a predator. When sterile males are released in the field, they will need to avoid predators until they reach sexual maturity and survive long enough to mate with wild females. Spiders are one of the most common predators that flies may encounter in release sites. In this study, we evaluated the antipredator behavior of a mass-reared sterile unisexual strain (‘Tapachula-7’) of the Mexican fruit fly Anastrepha ludens (Diptera: Tephritidae) against their spider predators. We sampled spiders in citrus trees to determine which families could be more common. We established the baseline activity rates of sterile Tapachula-7 (Tap-7) flies in comparison with wild flies. We also tested the behavior of the fertile and sterile bisexual strain and wild flies against hunting spiders (Family Salticidae) and orb building spiders (Family Tetragnathidae). We recorded 18 spider families, with Salticidae being the most dominant. Tap-7 flies diminished their activity in comparison with wild males at 1800┬áh but showed similar activity levels earlier in the day. When exposed to orb-web spiders (Leucauge venusta), Tap-7, fertile and sterile males from the bisexual strain had similar rates of survival, but Tap-7 males showed lower survival than wild males. Against hunting spiders (Phidippus audax), wild males had higher probability of defensive wing displays, but there was no difference in spider attack rates. In general, sterile Tap -7 males performed as well as males from the bisexual strain, although they had lower survival than wild males. This could be due to either mass-rearing and/or irradiation effects. We recommend the use of the defensive wing display behavior as a quality parameter and propose a rapid and effective method to evaluate fly activity. The efficiency of SIT will be improved if released sterile males have the same antipredator repertoire as their wild counterparts.

Concepts: Antipredator adaptation, Phidippus, Spider web, Salticidae, Fly, Spider, Predation, Insect


Tail signals and rump patch exposure in ungulates are well-documented phenomena, but there is no consensus about their functional significance, which has remained disputed. In addition, these patterns have been analyzed for only a limited number of ungulate species; and until now did not include goitered gazelles. This paper, then, will discuss these aspects of goitered gazelle antipredator behavior. I chose human harassments as predator threats and found that tail-flagging, stotting and presentation of the white rump-patch were displayed mostly by adult females, less often by adult males, and least in sub-adults. Adult females used tail-flagging and rump-patch exposure primarily for communication with their fawns especially frequently in July when fawns finished their hiding period. In August, adult females further strengthened their alarm signals by frequent stotting. Unlike females, adult males displayed tail- flagging and stotting quite randomly over months, likely depending on frequencies of encountered threats. However, females and males both displayed tail-flagging significantly more frequently than stotting (with a few exceptions) suggesting that tail-flagging has an independent communicative function, even if one signal amplifies the other. Goitered gazelles used tail-flagging and white rump-patch exposure likely as an alarm and cohesive signal for conspecifics, and adult females communicated by these signals mostly with their fawns.

Concepts: Elk, Antipredator adaptation, Ungulate, Human, Communication, Alarm signal, Predation, Gazelle


As alarm calls indicate the presence of predators, the correct interpretation of alarm calls, including those of other species, is essential for predator avoidance. Conversely, communication calls of other species might indicate the perceived absence of a predator and hence allow a reduction in vigilance. This “eavesdropping” was demonstrated in birds and mammals, including lemur species. Interspecific communication between taxonomic groups has so far been reported in some reptiles and mammals, including three primate species. So far, neither semantic nor interspecific communication has been tested in a solitary and nocturnal lemur species. The aim of this study was to investigate if the nocturnal and solitary Sahamalaza sportive lemur, Lepilemur sahamalazensis, is able to access semantic information of sympatric species. During the day, this species faces the risk of falling prey to aerial and terrestrial predators and therefore shows high levels of vigilance. We presented alarm calls of the crested coua, the Madagascar magpie-robin and aerial, terrestrial and agitation alarm calls of the blue-eyed black lemur to 19 individual Sahamalaza sportive lemurs resting in tree holes. Songs of both bird species' and contact calls of the blue-eyed black lemur were used as a control. After alarm calls of crested coua, Madagascar magpie-robin and aerial alarm of the blue-eyed black lemur, the lemurs scanned up and their vigilance increased significantly. After presentation of terrestrial alarm and agitation calls of the blue-eyed black lemur, the animals did not show significant changes in scanning direction or in the duration of vigilance. Sportive lemur vigilance decreased after playbacks of songs of the bird species and contact calls of blue-eyed black lemurs. Our results indicate that the Sahamalaza sportive lemur is capable of using information on predator presence as well as predator type of different sympatric species, using their referential signals to detect predators early, and that the lemurs' reactions are based on experience and learning.

Concepts: Madagascar, Predation, Antipredator adaptation, Lemuridae, Ring-tailed Lemur, Sportive lemur, Lemur, Primate


Perceptual abilities of animals, like echolocating bats, are difficult to study because they challenge our understanding of non-visual senses. We used novel acoustic tomography to convert echoes into visual representations and compare these cues to traditional echo measurements. We provide a new hypothesis for the echo-acoustic basis of prey detection on surfaces. We propose that bats perceive a change in depth profile and an ‘acoustic shadow’ cast by prey. The shadow is more salient than prey echoes and particularly strong on smooth surfaces. This may explain why bats look for prey on flat surfaces like leaves using scanning behaviour. We propose that rather than forming search images for prey, whose characteristics are unpredictable, predators may look for disruptions to the resting surface (acoustic shadows). The fact that the acoustic shadow is much fainter on rougher resting surfaces provides the first empirical evidence for ‘acoustic camouflage’ as an anti-predator defence mechanism.

Concepts: Crypsis, Antipredator adaptation, Sensory system, Sense, The Shadow, Understanding, Perception, Predation


Invasive species cause catastrophic alterations to communities worldwide by changing the trophic balance within ecosystems. Ever since their introduction in the mid 1980’s common red lionfish, Pterois volitans, are having dramatic impacts on the Caribbean ecosystem by displacing native species and disrupting food webs. Introduced lionfish capture prey at extraordinary rates, altering the composition of benthic communities. Here we demonstrate that the extraordinary success of the introduced lionfish lies in its capacity to circumvent prey risk assessment abilities as it is virtually undetectable by prey species in its native range. While experienced prey damselfish, Chromis viridis, respond with typical antipredator behaviours when exposed to a common predatory rock cod (Cephalopholis microprion) they fail to visibly react to either the scent or visual presentation of the red lionfish, and responded only to the scent (not the visual cue) of a lionfish of a different genus, Dendrochirus zebra. Experienced prey also had much higher survival when exposed to the two non-invasive predators compared to P. volitans. The cryptic nature of the red lionfish has enabled it to be destructive as a predator and a highly successful invasive species.

Concepts: Pterois, Crypsis, Antipredator adaptation, Ecosystem, Scorpaenidae, Invasive species, Ecology, Predation