Predator Inspection Behaviour in a Characin Fish: an Interaction between Chemical and Visual Information?


Grant E. Brown, Department of Biology, Concordia University, 1455 Boul. de Maisonneuve O., Montréal, Québec, H3G 1M8, Canada. E-mail:


Recent evidence suggests that predator inspection behaviour by Ostariophysan prey fishes is regulated by both the chemical and visual cues of potential predators. In laboratory trials, we assessed the relative importance of chemical and visual information during inspection visits by varying both ambient light (visual cues) and predator odour (chemical cues) in a 2 × 2 experimental design. Shoals of glowlight tetras (Hemigrammus erythrozonus) were exposed to a live convict cichlid (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus) predator under low (3 lux) or high (50 lux) light levels and in the presence of the odour of a cichild fed tetras (with an alarm cue) or swordtails (Xiphophorus helleri, with an alarm cue not recognized by tetras). Tetras exhibited threat-sensitive inspection behaviour (increased latency to inspect, reduced frequency of inspection, smaller inspecting group sizes and increased minimum approach distance) towards a predator paired with a tetra-fed diet cue, regardless of light levels. Similar threat-sensitive inspection patterns were observed towards cichlids paired with a swordtail-fed diet cue only under high light conditions. Our data suggest that chemical cues in the form of prey alarm cues in the diet of the predator, are the primary source of information regarding local predation risk during inspection behaviour, and that visual cues are used when chemical information is unavailable or ambiguous.