, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 527-536

Predator exaptations and defensive adaptations in evolutionary balance: No defence is perfect

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Summary

The lubber grasshopper,Romalea guttata, is large, aposematic, and extremely toxic. In feeding trials with 21 bird and lizard species, none were able to consume this chemically defended prey. Predators that attempted to eat lubbers, often gagged, regurgitated, and sometimes died. Loggerhead shrikes,Lanius ludovicianus, regularly impale this toxic prey in peninsular Florida. They, like other bird species, are unable to consume fresh lubbers. However, our tests show that they are able to consume lubbers if the prey are allowed to ‘age’ for 1–2 days. This suggests that lubber toxins degrade following death and that shrike impaling behaviour serves as a preadaptation for overcoming the toxic defences of this large and abundant prey. These results also imply that counter adaptations against chemical defences need not involve major morphological or metabolic specializations, but that simple behavioural traits can enable a predator to utilize toxic prey.