Swim with the tide: Tactics to maximize prey detection by a specialist predator, the greater sea snake (Hydrophis major)
The fitness of a predator depends upon its ability to locate and capture prey; and thus, increasing dietary specialization should favor the evolution of species-specific foraging tactics tuned to taxon-specific habitats and cues. Within marine environments, prey detectability (e.g., via visual or chemical cues) is affected by environmental conditions (e.g., water clarity and tidal flow), such that specialist predators would be expected to synchronize their foraging activity with cyclic variation in such conditions. In the present study, we combined behavioral-ecology experiments on captive sea snakes and their prey (catfish) with acoustic tracking of free-ranging sea snakes, to explore the use of waterborne chemical cues in this predator-prey interaction. In coral-reef ecosystems of New Caledonia, the greater sea snake (Hydrophis major) feeds only upon striped eel catfish (Plotosus lineatus). Captive snakes became more active after exposure to waterborne chemical cues from catfish, whereas catfish did not avoid chemical cues from snakes. Movement patterns of tracked snakes showed that individuals were most active on a rapidly falling tide, which is the time when chemical cues from hidden catfish are likely to be most readily available to a foraging predator. By synchronizing foraging effort with the tidal cycle, greater sea snakes may be able to exploit the availability of chemical cues during a rapidly falling tide to maximize efficiency in locating and capturing prey.