Generalization of predator recognition

velvet geckos display anti-predator behaviours in response to chemicals from non-dangerous elapid snakes

Jonathan K. Webb, Weiguo Du, David Pike, Richard Shine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)


Many prey species detect chemical cues from predators and modify their behaviours in ways that reduce their risk of predation. Theory predicts that prey should modify their anti-predator responses according to the degree of threat posed by the predator. That is, prey should show the strongest responses to chemicals of highly dangerous prey, but should ignore or respond weakly to chemicals from non-dangerous predators. However, if anti-predator behaviours are not costly, and predators are rarely encountered, prey may exhibit generalised antipredator behaviours to dangerous and non-dangerous predators. In Australia, most elapid snakes eat lizards, and are therefore potentially dangerous to lizard prey. Recently, we found that the nocturnal velvet gecko Oedura lesueurii responds to chemicals from dangerous and non-dangerous elapid snakes, suggesting that it displays generalised anti-predator behaviours to chemicals from elapid snakes. To explore the generality of this result, we videotaped the behaviour of velvet geckos in the presence of chemical cues from two small elapid snakes that rarely consume geckos: the nocturnal golden-crowned snake Cacophis squamulosus and the diurnal marsh snake Hemiaspis signata. We also videotaped geckos in trials involving unscented cards (controls) and cologne-scented cards (pungency controls). In trials involving Cacophis and Hemiaspis chemicals, 50% and 63% of geckos spent long time periods (> 3 min) freezing whilst pressed flat against the substrate, respectively. Over half the geckos tested exhibited anti-predator behaviours (tail waving, tail vibration, running) in response to Cacophis (67%) or Hemiaspis (63%) chemicals. These behaviours were not observed in control or pungency control trials. Our results support the idea that the velvet gecko displays generalised anti-predator responses to chemical cues from elapid snakes. Generalised responses to predator chemicals may be common in prey species that co-occur with multiple, ecologically similar, dangerous predators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-342
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • predation risk
  • chemical cues
  • lizard
  • Elapidae
  • Gekkonidae
  • Olfaction
  • multipredator

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