Chemical Predator Inspection in a Characin Fish (Hemigrammus erythrozonus, Characidae, Ostariophysi): The Effects of Mixed Predator Diets


Grant E. Brown Department of Biology, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W., Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1M8, Canada. E-mail:


Many prey organisms will approach (inspect) potential predators, primarily to assess local risk of predation. It has been demonstrated that Ostariphysan prey fishes can detect conspecific alarm pheromones in the diet of potential predators and use this chemical information to reduce their risk of predation while still gaining significant benefits associated with predator inspection. We conducted the current study to examine the possible effects of mixed diets on the use of these chemical predator diet cues during inspection visits. Shoals of four glowlight tetras (Hemigrammus erythrozonus) were exposed to Jack Dempsey cichlids (Cichlasoma octofaciatum) which had been fed diets consisting of: 100% tetras (with alarm pheromone); 75% tetra, 25% swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri, which lack a recognizable alarm pheromone); 25% tetra, 75% swordtail; or 100% swordtails. Tetras significantly increased their anti-predator behaviour in response to predators fed 100% tetra or the two mixed predator diets, but not when exposed to predators fed a 100% swordtail diet. Likewise, we observed significant differences in inspection behaviour. Tetras took longer to initiate an inspection, inspected in smaller groups and directed a greater proportion of inspection visits towards the tail region of the predator when it had been fed 100% tetra or either of the two mixed prey diets. We found no significant differences in either anti-predator or inspection behaviour among the three diet treatments containing tetras. These data strongly suggest that glowlight tetras are capable of detecting relatively small amounts of conspecific alarm pheromone in the diet of potential predators and that they modify their behaviour based on the presence or absence of these cues.