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Conspicuousness and vestigial escape behaviour by two dendrobatid frogs, Dendrobates auratus and Oophaga pumilio

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Aposematic prey are thought to move slowly and openly near predators, but exhibit reduced escape behaviour. We studied conspicuousness and escape by aposematic poison frogs (Dendrobates auratus and Oophaga pumilio). In circles of leaf litter, observers detected poison frogs quickly. Flight initiation distance (FID, predator-prey distance when escape begins) increases with approach speed in non-cryptic palatable prey, but not for frogs in clearings, which permitted close approach. On trails frogs moved slowly into forest and FID in D. auratus increased with approach speed. Distance from cover and handling exposing predators to distastefulness may account for greater reliance on aposematism in clearings. We observed responses to a simulated predator (stick with painted face) in three conditions: not approached, approached, and touched. Latency to hop and time to exit circles decreased and exit from circles was directed further away from the approach path in the order not approached, approached, touched. Oophaga pumilio changed directions less when approached than not; many exhibited no escape behaviour. Aposematic dendrobatids move slowly near predators, but retain risk-assessment mechanisms due to occasional predation. Differences in escape between dendrobatids and palatable Craugastor frogs suggest that dendrobatid defensive behavior may have been molded to maximize the effectiveness of aposematism.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Purdue University, Fort Wayne, IN 46805, USA; 2: Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73072, USA

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