Sea hares use novel antipredatory chemical defenses

Curr Biol. 2005 Mar 29;15(6):549-54. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2005.01.057.


Numerous studies have demonstrated that chemical defenses protect prey from predation and have often assumed that these defenses function by repelling predators. Surprisingly, few have investigated the mechanisms whereby predators are affected by these defenses. Here, we examine mechanisms of chemical defense of sea hares (Aplysia californica), which, when attacked by spiny lobsters (Panulirus interruptus), release defensive secretions from ink and opaline glands. We show that ink-opaline facilitates the escape of sea hares by acting through a combination of novel and conventional mechanisms. Ink-opaline contains millimolar quantities of amino acids that stimulate chemoreceptor neurons in the spiny lobster's nervous system. Ink stimulates appetitive and ingestive behavior, opaline can elicit appetitive behavior but can also inhibit ingestion and evoke escape responses, and both stimulate grooming. These results suggest that these secretions function by "phagomimicry," in which ink-opaline stimulates the feeding pathway to deceive spiny lobsters into attending to a false food stimulus, and by sensory disruption, in which the sticky and potent secretions cause high-amplitude, long-lasting chemo-mechanosensory stimulation. In addition, opaline contains a chemical deterrent that opposes appetitive effects. Thus, chemical defenses may act in more complex manners than palatability assays of prey chemistry may suggest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Aplysia / chemistry*
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / metabolism
  • Complex Mixtures / chemistry
  • Complex Mixtures / metabolism
  • Complex Mixtures / toxicity*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Escape Reaction / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Neurons, Afferent / drug effects
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Observation
  • Palinuridae / drug effects*
  • Palinuridae / physiology
  • Predatory Behavior / drug effects*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology
  • Smell / physiology


  • Amino Acids
  • Complex Mixtures