Dr. Christopher A. Binckley, Assistant Professor of Biology, co-authored a paper, “Is the pirate really a ghost? Evidence for generalized chemical camouflage in an aquatic predator, Pirate Perch (Aphredoderus sayanus),” which was recently published in The American Naturalist.
William Resetarits of Texas Tech University and Christopher Binckley of Arcadia University have worked for over a decade on responses of colonizing species to chemical cues emitted by fish. What they found was that vulnerable species, from tree frogs to beetles, routinely detect and avoid fish. And their experiments had always shown that "a fish is a fish is a fish," at least until they included Pirate Perch in one of their tree frog experiments. Pirate Perch were simply not avoided. This was unexpected, but when a whole host of aquatic beetles failed to avoid Pirate Perch, it moved into the realm of bizarre. Now after eleven experiments involving fish species representing much of the diversity in North America, it is clear that Pirate Perch are engaged in a form of generalized chemical chemical deception, either via crypsis, mimicry or cloaking. Examples exist of chemical mimicry and chemical crypsis in specialized predator-prey or host-parasitoid interactions, but until now, no examples had existed of chemical deception that is effective across a broad spectrum of species. The idea that a generalist predator could use chemical deception against a suite of prey ranging from insects to amphibians--in a matter precisely analogous to visual camouflage--should change how we think about predator-prey interactions and the potential weapons broad to bear in the predator-prey arms race.