Insect defenses against avian predators often include both a primary defense that reduces the probability of being attacked and a secondary defense, typically escape behavior, employed if the primary defense fails. Escape behavior, however, can make insects potentially vulnerable to specialized flush–pursuit predators. Neotropical Redstarts of the genus Myioborus (Parulidae) exploit insect escape behavior by using their contrasting black-and-white plumage and animated foraging behavior to startle insect prey that are then pursued and captured in flight. We examined how insect primary defense strategy and natural variation in Myioborus plumage pattern influence escape behavior in six species of homopterans from Monteverde, Costa Rica. The six homopterans included two aposematic species of the family Cercopidae (Ocoaxo sp. and Sphenorhina sp.), two cryptic species of the family Cixiidae (both Bothriocera spp.), and two structurally defended species of the family Membracidae (Campylocentrus sp. and Vestistilus variabilis). We measured the distance at which models of Myioborus Redstarts elicited escape behavior in insects under field conditions. Response distances varied significantly with both homopteran primary defense and Myioborus plumage pattern. Structurally defended homopterans were the most sensitive to the models and cryptic homopterans were the least sensitive. The model simulating the plumage of endemic M. miniatus comptus of Costa Rica elicited greater responses than did models of other Myioborus taxa with either less or more white in the plumage. Our results suggest that (1) primary defense strategies can have a significant effect on insect vulnerability to flush–pursuit predators, and (2) geographic variation in the plumage pattern of Myioborus Redstarts may reflect adaptation to regional prey and habitat characteristics that maximizes flush–pursuit foraging performance.
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