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The ontogeny of antipredator behavior: age differences in California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) at multiple stages of rattlesnake encounters

  • Author(s): Putman, BJ;
  • Coss, RG;
  • Clark, RW
  • et al.

Newborn offspring of animals often exhibit fully functional innate antipredator behaviors, but they may also require learning or further development to acquire appropriate responses. Experience allows offspring to modify responses to specific threats and also leaves them vulnerable during the learning period. However, antipredator behaviors used at one stage of a predator encounter may compensate for deficiencies at another stage, a phenomenon that may reduce the overall risk of young that are vulnerable at one or more stages. Few studies have examined age differences in the effectiveness of antipredator behaviors across multiple stages of a predator encounter. In this study, we examined age differences in the antipredator behaviors of California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) during the detection, interaction, and attack stages of Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) encounters. Using free-ranging squirrels, we examined the ability to detect free-ranging rattlesnakes, snake-directed behaviors after discovery of a snake, and responses to simulated rattlesnake strikes. We found that age was the most important factor in snake detection, with adults being more likely to detect snakes than pups. We also found that adults performed more tail flagging (a predator-deterrent signal) toward snakes and were more likely to investigate a snake’s refuge when interacting with a hidden snake. In field experiments simulating snake strikes, adults exhibited faster reaction times than pups. Our results show that snake detection improves with age and that pups probably avoid rattlesnakes and minimize time spent in close proximity to them to compensate for their reduced reaction times to strikes.

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