Plesiomorphic Escape Decisions in Cryptic Horned Lizards (Phrynosoma) Having Highly Derived Antipredatory Defenses


William E. Cooper Jr, Department of Biology, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, IN 46805, USA.


Escape theory predicts that the probability of fleeing and flight initiation distance (predator–prey distance when escape begins) increase as predation risk increases and decrease as escape cost increases. These factors may apply even to highly cryptic species that sometimes must flee. Horned lizards (Phrynosoma) rely on crypsis because of coloration, flattened body form, and lateral fringe scales that reduce detectability. At close range they sometimes squirt blood-containing noxious substances and defend themselves with cranial spines. These antipredatory traits are highly derived, but little is known about the escape behavior of horned lizards. Of particular interest is whether their escape decisions bear the same relationships to predation risk and opportunity costs of escaping as in typical prey lacking such derived defenses. We investigated the effects of repeated attack and direction of predator turning on P. cornutum and of opportunity cost of fleeing during a social encounter in P. modestum. Flight initiation distance was greater for the second of two successive approaches and probability of fleeing decreased as distance between the turning predator and prey increased, but was greater when the predator turned toward than away from a lizard. Flight initiation distance was shorter during social encounters than when lizards were solitary. For all variables studied, risk assessment by horned lizards conforms to the predictions of escape theory and is similar to that in other prey despite their specialized defenses. Our findings show that these specialized, derived defenses coexist with a taxonomically widespread, plesiomorphic method of making escape decisions. They suggest that escape theory based on costs and benefits, as intended, applies very generally, even to highly cryptic prey that have specialized defense mechanisms.