Deimatic or ‘startle’ displays cause a receiver to recoil reflexively in response to a sudden change in sensory input. Deimatism is sometimes implicitly treated as a form of aposematism (unprofitability associated with a signal). However, the fundamental difference is, in order to provide protection, deimatism does not require a predator to have any learned or innate aversion. Instead, deimatism can confer a survival advantage by exploiting existing neural mechanisms in a way that releases a reflexive response in the predator. We discuss the differences among deimatism, aposematism, and forms of mimicry, and their ecological and evolutionary implications. We highlight outstanding questions critical to progress in understanding deimatism.
- Received December 1, 2016.
- Accepted March 22, 2017.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.