Eyespots divert attacks by fish

Karin Kjernsmo, Sami Merilaita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Eyespots (colour patterns consisting of concentric rings) are found in a wide range of animal taxa and are often assumed to have an anti-predator function. Previous experiments have found strong evidence for an intimidating effect of eyespots against passerine birds. Some eyespots have been suggested to increase prey survival by diverting attacks towards less vital body parts or a direction that would facilitate escape. While eyespots in aquatic environments are widespread, their function is extremely understudied. Therefore, we investigated the protective function of eyespots against attacking fish. We used artificial prey and predator-naive three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) as predators to test both the diversion (deflection) and the intimidation hypothesis. Interestingly, our results showed that eyespots smaller than the fish' own eye very effectively draw the attacks of the fish towards them. Furthermore, our experiment also showed that this was not due to the conspicuousness of the eyespot, because attack latency did not differ between prey items with and without eyespots. We found little support for an intimidating effect by larger eyespots. Even though also other markings might misdirect attacks, we can conclude that the misdirecting function may have played an important role in the evolution of eyespots in aquatic environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20131458
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1766
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2013


  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Color
  • Cues
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Smegmamorpha
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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