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Inter-individual Variation in Antipredator Hiding Behavior of Spanish Terrapins Depends on Sex, Size, and Coloration

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Abstract

Behavioral responses to predation risk are critical for survival but as antipredator behavior is costly, prey animals should flexibly modulate their optimum defensive responses by considering both costs and benefits, which are partly influenced by the individual characteristics of the prey. Turtles have the shell as a morphological structure that may provide partial protection against predators, but hiding into the shell may entail some high costs, and turtles should decide when to switch to an active escape strategy to safe refuges. Here, we examined how gender, body size, and sexual coloration influence inter-individual variability of antipredatory hiding behavior into the shell of Spanish terrapins (Mauremys leprosa). We simulated predatory attacks under different conditions and measured the time that the turtles spent hidden entirely inside the shell (i.e., appearance times) and from then until the turtle started to flee actively (i.e., waiting times). Our results showed that when risk increased, appearance times increased but waiting times decreased. When turtles were in a prone position, their hiding behavior was related with their body weight with heavier turtles having longer appearance times. Also, the conspicuousness of limb coloration was important for the appearance times of males, but not for females. Thus, males with brighter coloration of the limb stripes had longer appearance times than duller ones. In addition, when turtles were overturned, males appeared out of the shell earlier than females and heavier turtles started to right sooner, but only when risk was low. However, when turtles were overturned and risk was high, they should assume that they have already been detected, making inter-individual differences in size and coloration apparently unimportant for deciding hiding behavior.

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