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Tail autotomy works as a pre‐capture defense by deflecting attacks
Ecology and Evolution, Volume: 11, Issue: 7, Pages: 3058 - 3064
Swansea University Author: William Allen
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DOI (Published version): 10.1002/ece3.7213
Caudal autotomy is a dramatic antipredator adaptation where prey shed their tail in order to escape capture by a predator. The mechanism underlying the effectiveness of caudal autotomy as a pre-capture defense has not been thoroughly investigated. We tested two nonexclusive hypotheses, that caudal a...
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Caudal autotomy is a dramatic antipredator adaptation where prey shed their tail in order to escape capture by a predator. The mechanism underlying the effectiveness of caudal autotomy as a pre-capture defense has not been thoroughly investigated. We tested two nonexclusive hypotheses, that caudal autotomy works by providing the predator with a “consolation prize” that makes it break off the hunt to consume the shed tail, and the deflection hypothesis, where the autotomy event directs predator attacks to the autotomized tail enabling prey escape. Our experiment utilized domestic dogs Canis familiaris as model predator engaged to chase a snake-like stimulus with a detachable tail. The tail was manipulated to vary in length (long versus short) and conspicuousness (green versus blue), with the prediction that dog attacks on the tail should increase with length under the consolation-prize hypothesis and conspicuous color under the deflection hypothesis. The tail was attacked on 35% of trials, supporting the potential for pre-capture autotomy to offer antipredator benefits. Dogs were attracted to the tail when it was conspicuously colored, but not when it was longer. This supports the idea that deflection of predator attacks through visual effects is the prime antipredator mechanism underlying the effectiveness of caudal autotomy as opposed to provision of a consolation prize meal.
animal coloration; antipredator defense; autotomy; caudal autotomy; deflection; squamate
Faculty of Science and Engineering