Deimatism: a neglected component of antipredator defence

Kate D.L. Umbers*, Sebastiano De Bona, Thomas E. White, Jussi Lehtonen, Johanna Mappes, John A. Endler

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/opinionpeer-review

    66 Citations (Scopus)


    Deimatic or 'startle' displays cause a receiver to recoil reflexively in response to a sudden change in sensory input. Deimatism is sometimes implicitly treated as a form of aposematism (unprofitability associated with a signal). However, the fundamental difference is, in order to provide protection, deimatism does not require a predator to have any learned or innate aversion. Instead, deimatism can confer a survival advantage by exploiting existing neural mechanisms in away that releases a reflexive response in the predator. We discuss the differences among deimatism, aposematism, and forms of mimicry, and their ecological and evolutionary implications. We highlight outstanding questions critical to progress in understanding deimatism.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20160936
    Pages (from-to)1-5
    Number of pages5
    JournalBiology Letters
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


    • aposematism
    • startle reflex
    • warning colours
    • camouflage
    • predator–prey
    • Acripeza


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