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Risk factors and escape strategy in the grasshopper Dissosteira carolina

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To determine aspects of escape strategy by the Carolina grasshopper, Dissosteira carolina, and applicability of models of escape behavior applied primarily to vertebrates, I conducted three field experiments by simulating an approaching predator. Escape theory predicts that flight initiation distance (distance from predator when escape begins) and distance fled increase as predation risk increases. Some aspects of escape are not predicted, and theory does not identify escape strategies including several components. I examined effects of risk factors (predator approach speed, directness of approach, and repeated approach) on flight initiation distance, distance fled, and the initial direction of escape. Flight initiation distance and distance fled were predicted to increase with approach speed. Because predators approaching directly may bypass prey without detecting it, probability of fleeing and flight initiation distance were predicted to increase with directness of approach. Because a persistent predator poses greater threat, flight initiation distance and distance fled were predicted to be greater for the second of two successive approaches. All findings were consistent with predictions of the Ydenberg & Dill (1986) model, suggesting that risk assessment and escape decisions by visually oriented insects may be similar to those of vertebrates. Although escape directly away from the predator might be expected to minimize risk, most grasshoppers escaped by flying at nearly right angles to the approach path. Lateral escape may be part of an escape strategy in which dark wing colour during flight rapidly disappears upon landing. With sudden change in colour and movement, the grasshopper becomes cryptic and difficult to relocate. Lateral escape may increase difficulty of maintaining visual contact with the grasshopper until it lands. It also avoids need for further escape from a predator that continues in its initial direction.


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