We used noninvasive, infrared phototransducers to record continuously the heartbeat of common mussels, Mytilus edulis, experiencing successive phases of interaction with the predatory gastropod Nucella lapillus, from initial threat to attack and consumption. Coupling physiological monitoring with behavioural analysis allowed us to investigate in detail the responses of mussels to predation threat. Compared to values of normal feeding activity, heart rate increased significantly when mussels were in the presence of effluent from dogwhelks. When attacked by dogwhelks, mussels increased their heart rate further, together with the rate of valve gaping. Considering the heart rate as a reliable estimator of respiratory function, these cardiac responses might be a mechanism to compensate for increased energy demand in order to cope with predation hazard. If so, the theoretical importance of trading off energy balance against risk of predation is supported by our results. Cardiac and behavioural responses varied throughout the attack according to the penetration method adopted by dogwhelks. When mussels were attacked through a drilled hole, heart rate tended to increase and periods of cardiac pausing appeared close to the point of death. In contrast, mussels attacked by penetration between the valves showed decreasing heart rate throughout the attack, together with relatively earlier cessation of valve gaping and appearance of cardiac pausing. These differences clearly support the hypothesis that dogwhelks penetrating between the valves are able to induce muscular paralysis of prey by injecting toxins. Copyright 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.