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Behavioral snake mimicry in breeding tits

Abstract : Many animals mimic the behavior or the appearance of venomous snakes. When humans or other potential predators place their hand near the nest of tits belonging to the family Paridae (and a few other species), the incubating female performs a hissing display that mimics the inhalation hiss of a viper or another snake. They hiss vigorously while lunging their head forward and shaking their wings and tail, repeating this behavior several times. The structure of the hiss in tits is similar to that of the inhalation hiss of a snake, providing evidence of significant convergence of the mimic toward the model. The behavior of individual females is repeatable among trials. Individuals that flew away from their nest box only performed the hissing display on 6% of later trials, when present at their box, whereas individuals that did not fly away hissed on 28% of occasions, consistent with great tits Parus major either cautiously flying away or staying put on their nest while actively defending it. Individuals that flew away produced fewer chicks than individuals that stayed and hissed. The hissing display was more common when snakes were more abundant: 1) When breeding late during the season; 2) when breeding at sites with more snakes; and 3) when breeding in subtropical and tropical China with a higher abundance of snakes than in Denmark with a lower abundance. The frequency of nest predation was higher in sites with no snakes, and the frequency of predation increased with decreasing frequency of hissing display. These findings are consistent with expectations for frequency-dependent selection acting on snake mimicry.
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https://hal-cnrs.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03024730
Contributor : Anders Moller <>
Submitted on : Thursday, November 26, 2020 - 12:35:06 AM
Last modification on : Saturday, November 28, 2020 - 3:32:02 AM

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Anders Møller, Einar Flensted-Jensen, Wei Liang. Behavioral snake mimicry in breeding tits. Current zoology, Institute of zoology, Chinese academy of sciences, 2020, ⟨10.1093/cz/zoaa028⟩. ⟨hal-03024730⟩

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