In arms races between predators and prey, some evolved tactics are unbeatable by the other player. For example, many types of prey are inedible because they have evolved chemical defenses. In this case, prey death removes any selective advantage of toxicity to the prey but not the selective advantage to a predator of being able to consume the prey. In the absence of effective selection for post-mortem persistence of the toxicity then, some chemical defenses probably break down rapidly after prey death. If so, predators can overcome the toxic defense simply by waiting for that breakdown before consuming the prey. Floodplain death adders (Acanthophis praelongus) are highly venomous frog-eating elapid snakes native to northern Australia. Some of the frogs they eat are nontoxic (Litoria nasuta), others produce gluelike mucus when seized by a predator (Limnodynastes convexiusculus), and one species (Litoria dahlii) is dangerously toxic to snakes. Both the glue and the toxin degrade within about 20 min of prey death. Adders deal with these prey types in different and highly stereotyped ways: they consume nontoxic frogs directly but envenomate and release the other taxa, waiting until the chemical defense loses its potency before consuming the prey.
Bibliographical noteCopyright 2007 by University of Chicago Press. Originally published in Phillips, B., & Shine, R. (2007). When dinner is dangerous: toxic frogs elicit species-specific responses from a generalist snake predator. The American Naturalist, 170(6), 936-942. https://doi.org/10.1086/522845
- antipredator tactics
- predator-prey systems
- prey release