Parental defence on the reef: antipredator tactics of coral-reef fishes against egg-eating seasnakes

Claire Goiran*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


On coral reefs in New Caledonia, the eggs of demersal-spawning fishes are consumed by turtle-headed seasnakes (Emydocephalus annulatus). Fish repel nest-raiding snakes by a series of tactics. We recorded 232 cases (involving 22 fish species) of antipredator behaviour towards snakes on a reef near Noumea. Blennies and gobies focused their attacks on snakes entering their nests, whereas damselfish (Pomacentridae) attacked passing snakes, as well as nest-raiders (reflecting territorial defence). Biting the snake was the most common form of attack, although damselfish and blennies also slapped snakes with the tail, or (blennies only) plugged the nest entrance with the parent fish's body. Gobies rarely defended the nest, although they sometimes bit or threw sand at the snake. A snake was more likely to flee if it was attacked before it began feeding rather than after it found the eggs (82% versus 3% repelled) and if bitten on the head rather than the body (68% versus 53%). Tail-slaps were not effective, although plugging the burrow and throwing sand often caused snakes to flee. These strong patterns reflect phylogenetic variation in fish behaviour (e.g. damselfish detect a snake approach sooner than do substrate-dwelling blennies and gobies) coupled with intraspecific variation in snake diets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-425
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • behaviour
  • hydrophiine
  • parental care
  • predator-prey
  • trophic ecology seasnake


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