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First Documentation of Cultural Transmission of Predator Recognition by Larval Amphibians


Maud C. O. Ferrari, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5E2, Canada.


Predation is a pervasive selective agent shaping a prey's behaviour, morphology and life history. To survive, prey animals have to respond adaptively to predation threats and this can be achieved through learned predator recognition. Cultural transmission of predator recognition is likely a widespread means of learning in social animals, including mammals, birds and fishes. However, no studies have investigated the cultural transmission of predator recognition in amphibians. In our study, we examined whether naïve woodfrog (Rana sylvatica) tadpoles can acquire the recognition of the odour of a predatory tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) from experienced conspecifics. After conditioning some tutors to recognize salamander odour, we paired naïve observer tadpoles with either a salamander-naïve or salamander-experienced tutor and exposed the pairs to either salamander odour or a water control. Observers were subsequently tested alone for a response to salamander odour. We found that when given salamander odour, observer tadpoles that were paired with a salamander-experienced tutor successfully learned to recognize the salamander odour as a threat, whereas the observers paired with salamander-naïve tutors did not. Likewise, tadpoles exposed to the water control did not learn to recognize the salamander regardless of whether they were paired with a naïve or experienced tutor. This is the first study demonstrating cultural transmission of predator recognition in an amphibian species.