Can Wall Lizards Combine Chemical and Visual Cues to Discriminate Predatory from Non-Predatory Snakes Inside Refuges?


José Martín, Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


The ability to use multiple cues in assessing predation risk is especially important to prey animals exposed to multiple predators. Wall lizards, Podarcis muralis, respond to predatory attacks from birds in the open by hiding inside rock crevices, where they may encounter saurophagous ambush smooth snakes. Lizards should avoid refuges with these snakes, but in refuges lizards can also find non-saurophagous viperine snakes, which lizards do not need to avoid. We investigated in the laboratory whether wall lizards used different predator cues to detect and discriminate between snake species within refuges. We simulated predatory attacks in the open to lizards, and compared their refuge use, and the variation in the responses after a repeated attack, between predator-free refuges and refuges containing visual, chemical, or visual and chemical cues of saurophagous or non-saurophagous snakes. Time to enter a refuge was not influenced by potential risk inside the refuge. In contrast, in a successive second attack, lizards sought cover faster and tended to increase time spent hidden in the refuge. This suggests a case of predator facilitation because persistent predators in the open may force lizards to hide faster and for longer in hazardous refuges. However, after hiding, lizards spent less time in refuges with both chemical and visual cues of snakes, or with chemical cues alone, than in predator-free refuges or in refuges with snake visual cues alone, but there were no differences in response to the two snake species. Therefore, lizards could be overestimating predation risk inside refuges. We discuss which selection pressures might explain this lack of discrimination of predatory from similar non-predatory snakes.