Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 105–110 | Cite as

Localized defecation by pike: a response to labelling by cyprinid alarm pheromone?

  • Grant E. Brown
  • Douglas P. Chivers
  • R. Jan F. Smith


Fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) that have never encountered a predatory pike (Esox lucius), are able to detect conspecific alarm pheromone in a pike's diet if the pike has recently consumed minnows. It remains unclear how this minnow alarm pheromone is secreted by pike and if a pike is able to avoid being labelled as a potential predator by localizing these cues away from its foraging range. The first experiment determined that minnow alarm pheromone is present in pike feces when pike are fed minnows. Individual fathead minnows exhibited a fright response to a stimulus of pike feces if the pike had been fed minnows, but not if the pike had been fed swordtails, which lack alarm pheromone. Individual minnows also exhibited a fright reaction to alarm pheromone in the water (which contained no feces) housing pike which had been fed minnows, suggesting that alarm pheromone is also released in urine, mucous secretions and/or via respiration. The second experiment determined that test pike spent a significantly greater proportion of time in the “home area” of the test tanks (i.e. where they were fed) but the majority of feces were deposited in the opposite end of the test tank. By localizing their defecation away from the home or foraging area, pike may be able to counter the effects of being labelled as a predator by the alarm pheromone of the prey species.

Key words

Esox lucius Pimephales promelas Schreckstoff Predator labelling Localized defecation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Brown GE, Smith RJF (1994) Fathead minnows use chemical cues to discriminate natural shoalmates from unfamiliar conspecifics. J Chem Ecol 20:3051–3061Google Scholar
  2. Chapman CA, MacKay WC (1984) Direct observation of habitat utilization of northern pike. Copeia 1984: 255–258Google Scholar
  3. Chivers DP, Smith RJF (1994a) The role of experience and chemical alarm signalling in predator recognition by fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). J Fish Biol 44: 273–285Google Scholar
  4. Chivers DP, Smith RJF (in press) Fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) learn to recognize chemical stimuli from high risk habitats by the presence of alarm substance. Behav EcolGoogle Scholar
  5. Chivers DP, Smith RJF (1994b) Fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) acquire predator recognition when alarm substance is associated with the sight of unfamiliar fish. Anim Behav 48:597–605Google Scholar
  6. Gelowitz CM, Mathis A, Smith RJF (1993) Chemosensory recognition of northern pike (Esox lucius) by brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans): population differences and the influence of predator diet. Behaviour 127: 105–118Google Scholar
  7. Getty T (1987) Dear enemies and the Prisoner's Dilemma: why should territorial neighbors form defensive coalitions? Am Zool 27:327–336Google Scholar
  8. Heczko E, Seghers BH (1981) Effects of alarm substance on schooling in the common shiner (Notropis cornutus, Cyprinidae). Environ Biol Fish 6: 25–29Google Scholar
  9. Hobson ES (1979) Interactions between piscivorous fishes and their prey. In: Clepper H, Strout RH (eds) Predator-prey systems in fisheries management. Sport Fishing Institute, Washington D.C., pp 231–242Google Scholar
  10. Högstedt G (1983) Adaptation unto death: function of fear screams. Am Nat 121: 562–570Google Scholar
  11. Huntingford FA (1984) Some ethical issues raised by studies of predation and aggression. Anim Behav 32: 210–215Google Scholar
  12. Keefe M (1992) Chemically mediated avoidance behaviour in wild brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis: the response to familiar and unfamiliar predaceous fishes and the influence of fish diet. Can J Zool 70: 288–292Google Scholar
  13. Keppel G (1982) Design and analysis, 2nd edn. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  14. Koenig WD, Stanback MT, Hooge PN (1991) Distress calls in the acorn woodpecker. Condor 93: 637–643Google Scholar
  15. Krause J (1993) The effect of ‘Schreckstoff’ on the shoaling behaviour of the minnow — A test of Hamilton's selfish herd theory. Anim Behav 45:1019–1024Google Scholar
  16. Lawler GH (1965) The food of the pike, Esox lucius, in Heming Lake, Manitoba. J Fish Res Bd Can 22: 1357–1377Google Scholar
  17. Lawrence BJ, Smith RJF (1989) Behavioral response of solitary fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas, to alarm substance. J Chem Ecol 15: 209–219Google Scholar
  18. Lima SL, Dill LM (1990) Behavioural decisions made under the risk of predation: a review and prospectus. Can J Zool 68: 619–640Google Scholar
  19. Mathis A, Smith RJF (1993a) Fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas, learn to recognize northern pike, Esox lucius, as predators on the basis of chemical stimuli from minnows in the pike's diet. Anim Behav 46: 645–656Google Scholar
  20. Mathis A, Smith RJF (1993b) Chemical alarm signals increase the survival time of fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) during encounters with northern pike (Esox lucius). Behav Ecol 4: 260–265Google Scholar
  21. Mathis A, Smith RJF (1993c) Chemical labeling of northern pike (Esox lucius) by the alarm pheromone of fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). J Chem Ecol 19: 1967–1979Google Scholar
  22. Mathis A, Chivers DP, Smith RJF (in press) Chemical alarm signals: predator-deterrents or predator-attractants. Am NatGoogle Scholar
  23. Mykytowycz R (1968) Territorial marking by rabbits. Sci Am 218: 116–126Google Scholar
  24. Perrone M (1980) Factors affecting the incidence of distress calls in passerines. Wilson Bull 92: 404–408Google Scholar
  25. Poole T (1985) Social behaviour in mammals. Blackie, GlasgowGoogle Scholar
  26. Rehnberg BG, Smith RJF (1990) Behavioural and physiological responses to alarm pheromone by ostariophysan fishes and a possible modulating role for brain benzodiazepine receptors. In: Macdonald DW, Müller-Schwarz D, Natynczuk SE (eds) Chemical signals in vertebrates, vol 5. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 132–138Google Scholar
  27. Savino JF, Stein RA (1989) Behavior of fish predators and their prey: habitat choice between open water and dense vegetation. Environ Biol Fish 24: 287–293PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Scott WB, Crossman EJ (1973) Freshwater fishes of Canada. Fish Res Bd Can Bull 184Google Scholar
  29. Shorey HH (1976) Animal communication by pheromones. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Siegel S (1956) Nonparametric statistics for the behavioural sciences. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Siegel S, Castellan NJ (1988) Nonparametric statistics for the behavioural sciences, 2nd edn. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Smith RJF (1973) Testosterone eliminates alarm substance in male fathead minnows. Can J Zool 51: 875–876MathSciNetzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  33. Smith RJF (1976) Seasonal loss of alarm substance cells in North American cyprinoid fishes and its relation to abrasive spawning behaviour. Can J Zool 54: 1172–1182Google Scholar
  34. Smith RJF (1986) The evolution of chemical alarm signals in fishes. In: Duvall D, Müller-Schwarze D, Silverstein RM (eds) Chemical signals in vertebrates, vol. 4. Plenum, New York, pp 99–115Google Scholar
  35. Smith RJF (1992) Alarm signals in fishes. Rev Fish Biol Fish 2: 33–63Google Scholar
  36. Vogel S (1981) Life in moving fluids: the physical biology of flow. Willard Grant, BostonGoogle Scholar
  37. Yamamoto I (1984) Latrine utilization and feces recognition in the racoon dog, Nyctereutes procyonoides. J Ethol 2: 47–54Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Grant E. Brown
    • 1
  • Douglas P. Chivers
    • 1
  • R. Jan F. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

Personalised recommendations