Original Article

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 551-555

First online:

Making sense of predator scents: investigating the sophistication of predator assessment abilities of fathead minnows

  • Robin C. KuschAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Saskatchewan Email author 
  • , Reehan S. MirzaAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Saskatchewan
  • , Douglas P. ChiversAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Saskatchewan

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According to the threat-sensitive predator avoidance hypothesis, selection favors prey that accurately assess the degree of threat posed by a predator and adjust their anti-predator response to match the level of risk. Many species of animals rely on chemical cues to estimate predation risk; however, the information content conveyed in these chemical signatures is not well understood. We tested the threat-sensitive predator avoidance hypothesis by determining the specificity of the information conveyed to prey in the chemical signature of their predator. We found that fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) could determine the degree of threat posed by northern pike (Esox lucius) based on the concentration of chemical cues used. The proportion of minnows that exhibited an anti-predator response when exposed to a predator cue increased as the concentration of the pike cue used increased. More surprisingly, the prey could also distinguish large pike from small pike based on their odor alone. The minnows responded more intensely to cues of small pike than to cues of large pike. In this predator–prey system small pike likely represent a greater threat than large pike.


Threat sensitivity Predator assessment Predator avoidance Size