Predator Recognition and Learned Irrelevance in the Crayfish Orconectes virilis


Brian A. Hazlett, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA. E-mail:


When individuals of the crayfish Orconectes virilis detect an unlearned danger cue (alarm odor) and a novel cue (goldfish odor) at the same time, they form a learned association and behave as if the novel cue is associated with increased predation risk (Hazlett et al. 2002). This study examined the potential for learned irrelevance in O. virilis and the circumstances under which blockage of the formation of a learned association could occur. If individuals experience a random pattern of alarm odor and goldfish odor over the days prior to the simultaneous detection of those two cues, no learned association is formed (= learned irrelevance). That is, there is no inhibition of responses to a food cue when goldfish odor is added if the crayfish has experienced a random pattern of the two cues. Learning was eliminated if the random pattern of cues was experienced before or after the simultaneous detection. To present the two cues (alarm and goldfish odors) to crayfish independently on separate days, the water containing goldfish odor had to be removed from the aquaria as the odor persisted at least 24 h. The importance of the learned irrelevance phenomenon on predator–prey interactions is discussed.