The Feeding Behaviour of a Sit-and-Wait Predator, Ranatra dispar (Heteroptera: Nepidae): The Combined Effect of Food Deprivation and Prey Size on the Behavioural Components of Prey Capture


School of Australian Environmental Studies, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia


Previous work has shown a significant effect of hunger on the predatory behaviour in a sit-and-wait predator Ranatra dispar, the water stick insect (Bailey 1986 a). The experiments reported here were designed to investigate the combined effect of prey size and hunger on the predatory behaviour in order to identify which behavioural components are effected. It was found that the hunger level determines whether R. dispar will initially be aroused or not but the distance at which the arousal takes place is influenced by the size of the prey. This is believed to reflect the capacity and interrelation between visual and mechanoreceptor, sensory organs. The decision to strike at a prey is, although again influenced by hunger, significantly affected by prey size. The distance of the prey when the strike takes place is affected by hunger not the size of the prey. The outcome of the strike is determined by the size of the prey, not the hunger level of the predator. This is believed to reflect the relationship between strike trajectory, leg morphology and prey size. Food deprivation affects all components of predatory behaviour of R. dispar leading up to prey capture, by increasing not only distance of response but also the number of strikes, hits, and captures per unit presentation of prey. It does not affect capture efficiency which remains at about 70 to 80 %. Food deprivation also increases the range of prey sizes that R. dispar responds to and attempts to capture. The effect of food deprivation is considered to reflect a motivational change in responsiveness to particular prey stimuli usually described as a sensitization of particular stimulus-response relations rather than the food deprivation affecting the sensory mechanisms. The predatory success in relation to size of model prey suggested a hypothetical size that could be captured, irrespective of predator motivational level, which is based primarily on the relationship between the shape of the grasping leg and size of prey.