Underwater caustics disrupt prey detection by a reef fish

Samuel R Matchette*, Innes C Cuthill, Nicholas E Scott-Samuel, N. Justin Marshall, Karen L Cheney

*Corresponding author for this work

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

9 Citations (Scopus)
108 Downloads (Pure)


Natural habitats contain dynamic elements, such as varying local illumination: can such features mitigate the salience of organism movement? Dynamic illumination is particularly prevalent in coral reefs, where patterns known as ‘water caustics’ play chaotically in the shallows. In behavioural experiments with a wild-caught reef fish, the Picasso triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus), we demonstrate that the presence of dynamic water caustics negatively affects the detection of moving prey items, as measured by attack latency, relative to static water caustic controls. Manipulating two further features of water caustics (sharpness and scale) implies that the masking effect should be most effective in shallow water: scenes with fine scale and sharp water caustics induce the longest attack latencies. Due to the direct impact upon foraging efficiency, we expect the presence of dynamic water caustics to influence decisions about habitat choice and foraging by wild prey and predators.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1924
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception


  • dynamic illumination
  • foraging
  • motion camouflage
  • signal masking
  • water caustics


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