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RESPONSES OF STRIPED MICE, RHABDOMYS PUMILIO, TO FAECES OF A PREDATORY SNAKE

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We investigated the behavioural responses of captive wild-caught striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) to the faeces of the elapid snake, the rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus), a striped mouse predator. The rinkhals apparently conceals its presence from potential prey by defecating away from their retreats, and we predicted that R. pumilio recognises this snake's faeces and displays anti-predator responses. We also tested whether R. pumilio is capable of diet-related predator labelling by observing their reactions to faeces of rinkhals fed different meals. Both sexes showed a significant anti-predator response to the presence of rinkhals faeces compared to that of house mouse (Mus musculus) bedding, by decreasing activity and investigations of test samples. In addition, R. pumilio showed diet-related predator labelling since its anti-predator response was greater when presented with H. haemachatus faeces containing remains of conspecifics than with those containing remains of house mice. The increased response to faeces with stimuli from conspecifics may function to alert R. pumilio to the presence of a predator. However, the defecation behaviour of H. haemachatus suggests that encounters between R. pumilio and H. haemachatus faeces would not necessarily lead to a predator-prey encounter.

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