Fin-flicking behaviour: A visual antipredator alarm signal in a characin fish, Hemigrammus erythrozonus
Glowlight tetras, Hemigrammus erythrozonus, show a conspicuous visual display ('fin flicking') upon detecting a conspecific chemical alarm signal (alarm pheromone). We conducted laboratory studies to test two, nonmutually exclusive hypotheses regarding the function of this behaviour. To test the hypothesis that fin flicking acts as a visual alarm signal to conspecifics, we paired shoals of tetras with a stimulus tetra in an adjacent tank (separated by a one-way mirror) and exposed the stimulus tetras to conspecific skin extract (with alarm pheromone) or swordtail skin extract (which lacks ostariophysan alarm pheromone). Stimulus tetras significantly increased their frequency of fin flicking when exposed to conspecific skin extract, but not to the swordtail skin extract control. The test shoals showed a significant increase in antipredator behaviour in response to fin-flicking stimulus tetras, but not to stimulus tetras that did not fin-flick. To test the hypothesis that fin flicking serves as a predator deterrent, we paired predatory Jack Dempsey cichlids, Cichlasoma octofaciatum, with tetras in adjacent tanks and exposed the tetras to either conspecific or swordtail skin extract. Predators remained further away from the stimulus tetra, took longer to initiate a bite and displayed fewer bites towards tetras that fin-flicked compared with tetras that did not fin-flick. These results support our hypothesis that fin flicking in tetras serves as both a visual alarm signal to conspecifics and a deterring signal to predators, and suggest that individual tetras may reduce their risk of predation by fin flicking upon detecting a predation threat.
Brown, G.E. (Grant E.), Godin, J.-G.J, & Pedersen, J. (Jessica). (1999). Fin-flicking behaviour: A visual antipredator alarm signal in a characin fish, Hemigrammus erythrozonus. Animal Behaviour, 58(3), 469–475. doi:10.1006/anbe.1999.1173