Tonically immobilized selfish prey can survive by sacrificing others

Takahisa Miyatake, Satoshi Nakayama, Yusuke Nishi, Shuhei Nakajima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Death-feigning, also called tonic immobility, is found in a number of animal species across vertebrate and invertebrate taxa. To date, five hypotheses have been proposed for the adaptive significance of tonic immobility. These are that tonic immobility is effective for prey because (i) avoiding dead prey is safer for predators, (ii) immobility plays a role in physical defence, (iii) immobility plays a role in concealment and/or background matching, (iv) predators lose interest in unmoving prey, and (v) the characteristic immobilization posture signals a bad taste to predators. The fourth and fifth hypotheses have been considered suitable explanations for tonic immobility of the red flour beetle against its predator, the jumping spider. In the present study, we used chemical analyses of secretions by the red flour beetles under attack by the jumping spider to reject the fifth hypothesis for this system. More importantly, we tested a selfish-prey hypothesis for the adaptive significance of death-feigning as an anti-predator strategy, in which individuals adopting tonic immobility survive by sacrificing neighbours. Findings showed that survival rates of feigners were higher when in the presence of non-feigners or prey of a different species, compared to when alone, thus confirming our selfish-prey hypothesis. In summary, our results suggest that immobility following a spider attack is selfish; death-feigning prey increase their probability of survival at the expense of more mobile neighbours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2763-2767
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1668
Publication statusPublished - Aug 7 2009


  • Benzoquinone
  • Death-feigning
  • Jumping spider
  • Selfishness
  • Thanatosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Tonically immobilized selfish prey can survive by sacrificing others'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this