Flash behavior, in which otherwise cryptic prey exhibit conspicuous coloration or noise when fleeing from potential predators, has been postulated to hinder location of prey once they become stationary. Here, using artificial computer-generated prey and humans as visual predators, we show that human subjects are more likely to abandon their search for prey that flash, compared to continuously cryptic fleeing controls. Survivorship of flashing prey was an additional 20% higher than the survivorship of continuously cryptic prey, depending on the background against which it was depicted. This survivorship advantage was consistent regardless of whether prey showed flash colors continuously or intermittently during flight. The advantage over continuously cryptic prey was highest when the flashing prey was presented first. Likewise, the more search areas containing no prey that the volunteers had initially viewed, the more likely they were to give up when there was a cryptic prey present. Collectively, these 3 findings indicate that volunteers inferred the flashing prey was absent from the search area when they failed to see a prey in the same form as they saw it move. Our results demonstrate first proof of concept: flash behavior, widely seen in taxa from insects to mammals, is an effective antipredator escape mechanism.

Additional Metadata
Keywords antipredator, flash coloration, hidden coloration, predator-prey, secondary defense, startle
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1093/beheco/ary030
Journal Behavioral Ecology
Loeffler-Henry, K. (Karl), Kang, C. (Changku), Yip, Y. (Yolanda), Caro, T. (Tim), & Sherratt, T. (2018). Flash behavior increases prey survival. Behavioral Ecology, 29(3), 528–533. doi:10.1093/beheco/ary030