Fishes from multiple orders produce and recognize chemical alarm signals. In ostariophysan fishes, the alarm substance originates in epidermal cells and is released when their skin is damaged. In fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) responses to alarm pheromones released from conspecifics include shoaling, seeking cover, foraging less, and remaining motionless. Naïve fathead minnows apparently learn to fear a novel predator's scent by observing the behavior of experienced fish in the presence of the scent. This suggests that fish may be able to perceive a threat using visual cues alone. We asked whether fathead minnows can perceive a threat by simply observing conspecifics that are exposed to alarm substances. We exposed groups of fathead minnows to skin extract containing the alarm pheromone and observed the responses of fish in adjacent aquaria to determine whether this second group of fish perceived that the adjacent fish sensed danger. There was no significant response to the visual stimulus, but this may be because the adjacent fish exposed to the alarm substance did not respond to the alarm substance.
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Vol. 76 • No. 2