, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 435–439 | Cite as

Occurrence and variation of egg cannibalism in brown trout Salmo trutta

  • Jean-Christophe Aymes
  • Maider Larrieu
  • Cédric TentelierEmail author
  • Jacques Labonne
Short Communication


Egg cannibalism is a common behavior among fish taxa and is largely studied in species with parental care. Heterocannibalism and filial cannibalism have both been reported in salmonids, a group with no extended parental care, but the topic remained somewhat under-documented, especially in brown trout (Salmo trutta). In the present study, 83 spawning events were recorded finely with high-resolution video in three natural populations. Redd covering dynamics by females and the timing of cannibalism showed that eggs were vulnerable mainly during the first 120 s after spawning. Cannibalism occurred in 25% of spawnings and was principally perpetrated by peripherals but the sires also cannibalized their brood, especially after multiple mating. The probability of cannibalism increased with operational sex ratio but did not correlate with the date in spawning season. Occurrence of cannibalism also differed between populations. Our results suggest that such behavior is frequent and may reduce the fitness of parents. Its evolutionary implications for population ecology should be considered, since it appeared to be controlled by environmental and spatial factors.


Oophagy Wild trout Intra-specific predation Sexual selection Mating system Interference 


Ethical note

The experiments reported in this manuscript comply with the French laws.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

Online resource 1

The setting for egg cannibalism: aerial and underwater video sequences of brown trout (Salmo trutta) spawning. Sequences 1 and 2 illustrate various behaviours associated to spawning. The redd is dug by the female using tail movements, resulting in a nest pit strewn with coarse pebbles, followed by a dome of finer particles. To probe the nest pit, the female occasionally inserts her anal fin on the substrate. Nest digging lasts for ca. 4 h (Esteve 2005) and spawning can occur at any hour of the day or night. The dominant male both courts the female (occasionally quivering alongside her; Jones and Ball 1954) during a few minutes to several hours by staying with her on the nest and chases peripheral males prowling around the nest. Both spawners emit their gametes simultaneously on the nest pit, after which the female covers the eggs with fine particles sent up by tail movements. Although brown trout is characterized by a highly variable life histories, it is considered iteroparous and promiscuous (Fleming 1998), each individual spawning several times per season (5.7 redds/female; Barlaup et al. 1994) for up to four seasons (Rubin et al. 2005), with several mates. Sequences 3 to 6 illustrate sequential promiscuity between two females and two males. Twenty underwater sequences were obtained with waterproof camera (Sony HQ1; angular field: 120°) placed on the streambed 1 m from the nest, and connected to a personal computer for live sequence checking (using VirtualDub software). Sequences were saved either on the computer’s hard disk or on a portable mpeg-2 recorder (Chasecam PDR-100) directly connected to the camera. Underwater video had the advantage of giving clear images (allowing fine behavioral description and individual recognition) even when visibility from the bank was poor (turbid water, rain or wind ruffling water surface), but encompassed a narrower field around the nest and might disturb the fish, at least during camera installation. To obtain the 63 aerial sequences, digital camera (Panasonic NV-DS27 or Sony Handycam DCR-SR90) was placed on a tripod on the bank, 5 to 10 m from the nest. Live check through the control screen ensured good visibility (clear water, smooth water surface, orientation of the polarizing filter, adequate zoom). Aerial video did not disturb fish at all, was faster to install, and offered a wider view of the area surrounding the focal nest than underwater video, but could only be used when visibility from the bank was good and rarely provided as precise images as underwater video. References: Barlaup BJ, Lura H, Saegrov H, Sundt RC (1994) Inter-specific and intra-specific variability in female salmonid spawning behavior. Can J Zool 72:636–642. Esteve M (2005) Observations of spawning behaviour in Salmoninae: Salmo, Oncorhynchus and Salvelinus. Rev Fish Biol Fish 15:1–21. Fleming IA (1998) Pattern and variability in the breeding system of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), with comparisons to other salmonids. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 55:59–76. Jones JW, Ball JN (1954) The spawning behaviour of brown trout and salmon. Br. J. Anim. Behav. 2:103–114. Rubin JF, Glimsater C, Jarvi T (2005) Spawning characteristics of the anadromous brown trout in a small Swedish stream. J. Fish Biol. 66:107–121. (MPG 41,010 kb)

Online resource 2

Underwater video of brown trout (Salmo trutta) spawning followed by heterocannibalism perpetrated by four peripheral males. The dominant male is present after spawning but does not take part in cannibalism. One of the cannibals had been marked (green plastic tag on the left flank). (MPG 24,756 kb)

Online resource 3

Aerial video of brown trout (Salmo trutta) multiple spawning followed by both filial and heterocannibalism. Cannibalism is initiated by a peripheral individual immediately after spawning. Cannibalism can be distinguished from picking of drifting eggs because cannibals lean their body and beat their tail to dig the nest, thereby causing their exposed flank to reflect sunlight (MPG 18,882 kb)

Online resource 4

Underwater video of brown trout (Salmo trutta) spawning followed by filial cannibalism. The dominant male initiates cannibalism shortly after spawning. Only one of the two peripherals takes part in cannibalism (one attempt at the 60th second). (MPG 13,034 kb)


  1. Bellesisles JC, Fitzgerald GJ (1993) A fitness advantage of cannibalism in female sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus L). Ethol Ecol Evol 5:187–191Google Scholar
  2. Blanchfield PJ, Ridgway MS (1999) The cost of peripheral males in a brook trout mating system. Anim Behav 57:537–544CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Blumstein DT, Daniel JC (2007) Quantifying behavior the JWatcher way. Sinauer Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  4. De Gaudemar B, Beall E (1999) Reproductive behavioural sequences of single pairs of Atlantic salmon in an experimental stream. Anim Behav 57:1207–1217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fleming IA, Reynolds JD (2004) Salmonid breeding systems. In: Hendry AP, Stearns SC (eds) Evolution illuminated. Oxford University Press, pp 264–294Google Scholar
  6. Garner SR, Heath JW, Neff BD (2009) Egg consumption in mature Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.). Can J Fish Aquat Sci 66:1546–1553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gosset C, Rives J, Labonne J (2006) Effect of habitat fragmentation on spawning migration of brown trout (Salmo trutta L.). Ecol Freshw Fish 15:247–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gray SM, Dill LM, McKinnon JS (2007) Cuckoldry incites cannibalism: male fish turn to cannibalism when perceived certainty of paternity decreases. Am Nat 169:258–263CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Greeley JR (1932) The spawning habits of brook, brown and rainbow trout, and the problem of egg predators. Trans Am Fish Soc 62:239–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Labonne J, Augery M, Parade M, Brinkert S, Prevost E, Heland M, Beall E (2009) Female preference for male body size in brown trout, Salmo trutta: is big still fashionable? Anim Behav 77:129–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lourdais O, Brischoux F, Shine R, Bonnet X (2005) Adaptive maternal cannibalism in snakes (Epicrates cenchria maurus, Boidae). Biol J Linn Soc 84:767–774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Maekawa K, Ozonato H (1986) Reproductive tactics and fertilization success of mature male Miyabe charr. Salvelinus malma miyabei. Environ Biol Fishes 15:119–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Maekawa K, Hino T (1987) Effect of cannibalism on alternative life histories in Charr. Evolution 41:1120–1123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Maekawa K, Hino T (1990) Spawning tactics of female Miyabe charr (Salvenilus malma miyabei) against egg cannibalism. Can J Zool 68:889–894CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Manica A (2002) Filial cannibalism in teleost fish. Biol Rev 77:261–277CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Quinn TP, Adkinson MD, Ward MB (1996) Behavioral tactics of male sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) under varying operational sex ratios. Ethology 102:304–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rohwer S (1978) Parent cannibalism of offspring and egg raiding as a courtship strategy. Am Nat 112:429. doi: 10.1086/283284 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Royce WE (1951) Breeding habits of lake trout in New York. Fish Bull 52:59–76Google Scholar
  19. Sargent RC (1992) Ecology of filial cannibalism in fish: theoretical perspectives. In: Elgar MA, Crespi BJ (eds) Cannibalism: ecology and evolution among diverse taxa. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 38–62Google Scholar
  20. Stark RE, Hefetz A, Gerling D, Velthuis HHW (1990) Reproductive competition involving oophagy in the socially nesting bee Xylocopa sulcatipes. Naturwissenschaften 77:38–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Thomas LK, Manica A (2003) Filial cannibalism in an assassin bug. Anim Behav 66:205–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Vickery WL, Whoriskey FG, Fitzgerald GJ (1988) On the evolution of nest raiding and male defensive behavior in sticklebacks (Pisces, Gasterosteidae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 22:185–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Christophe Aymes
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maider Larrieu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Cédric Tentelier
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jacques Labonne
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.INRA, UMR EcobiopSaint Pée sur NivelleFrance
  2. 2.UPPA, UMR EcobiopSaint Pée sur NivelleFrance

Personalised recommendations