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Prey species show diverse antipredator responses to chemical cues signaling predation threat. Among terrestrial vertebrates, the red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus, is an important species in the study of these chemical defenses. During the day and early evening, this species avoids rinses from garter snakes, Thamnophis sirtalis, independent of snake diet, but late at night, avoids only those rinses from garter snakes that have recently eaten P. cinereus. We tested whether the selective, late-night response requires the ingestion or injury of salamanders. In three experiments, we tested P. cinereus for their responses to separate or combined rinses from salamanders (undisturbed, distressed, and injured P. cinereus) and snakes (unfed, earthworm fed, and salamander-fed T. sirtalis). When paired against a water control, only rinses from salamander-fed snakes were avoided. When salamander treatments (undisturbed or distressed) were combined with the snake treatments (unfed or earthworm-fed) and tested against a water control, the combinations elicited avoidance. When selected treatments were paired against the standard rinse from salamander-fed snakes, only the combined rinses from salamanders and snakes nullified the avoidance response to the standard rinse. These data reveal a prey defense mechanism involving chemical elements from both the predator and prey that does not require injury or ingestion of the prey in the formation of the cue.


Originally published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology, Vol. 28, No. 11, (November 2002).

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