Lionfish predators use flared fin displays to initiate cooperative hunting

Oona M. Lönnstedt, Maud C. O. Ferrari, Douglas P. Chivers

Abstract

Despite considerable study, mystery surrounds the use of signals that initiate cooperative hunting in animals. Using a labyrinth test chamber, we examined whether a lionfish, Dendrochirus zebra, would initiate cooperative hunts with piscine partners. We found that D. zebra uses a stereotyped flared fin display to alert conspecific and heterospecific lionfish species Pterois antennata to the presence of prey. Per capita success rate was significantly higher for cooperative hunters when compared with solitary ones, with hunt responders assisting hunt initiators in cornering the prey using their large extended pectoral fins. The initiators would most often take the first strike at the group of prey, but both hunters would then alternate striking at the remaining prey. Results suggest that the cooperative communication signal may be characteristic to the lionfish family, as interspecific hunters were equally coordinated and successful as intraspecific hunters. Our findings emphasize the complexity of collaborative foraging behaviours in lionfish; the turn-taking in strikes suggests that individuals do not solely try to maximize their own hunting success: instead they equally share the resources between themselves. Communicative group hunting has enabled Pteroine fish to function as highly efficient predators.

  • Received April 2, 2014.
  • Accepted May 30, 2014.
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