Chemical discrimination among predators by lizards: Responses of three skink species to the odours of high- and low-threat varanid predators


  • This manuscript has not been published or submitted for publication elsewhere.

*Present address: Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, PMB 925, Derby, WA 6728, Australia (Email:


Animals must balance the benefits of predator avoidance with costs. Costs of predator avoidance, such as being forced to spend long periods inactive, should select for careful discrimination among predator species. Although prey responses to multiple predators have been well researched across many taxa, no studies have tested whether lizards discriminate among larger lizard predators. We examined the responses of three species of skink to two species of predatory goanna, one that occasionally consumes skinks, and the other a skink specialist. Three litter-dwelling, tropical skink species, Carlia rostralis, C. rubrigularis and C. storri, were given a choice between a retreat site treated with the odour of one of the goanna species, and an odourless control. The two goanna species used for stimulus scents were: Varanus tristis, a species that consumes skinks as a major proportion of its diet, and Varanus varius, a species that consumes skinks occasionally. Both goannas are broadly sympatric with all three skink species. Carlia rostralis and C. storri both avoided the scent of V. tristis, whereas C. rubrigularis did not. However, no skink species avoided the odour of V. varius. Prey are clearly able to avoid predators based on chemical cues, and can discriminate among similar predators that pose different levels of threat.