Deadly toxins and resistance to them are an evolutionary enigma. Selection for increased resistance does not occur if predators do not survive encounters with toxic prey. Similarly, deadly toxins are of no advantage to individual prey if it dies delivering the toxins. For individual selection to drive the coevolutionary arms race between resistant predators and lethal prey, the survivorship of individual predators must covary with their resistance. The extreme toxicity of the rough skinned newt Taricha granulosa appears to have coevolved with resistance in its predator, the common garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis, yet the mechanism by which individual selection can operate has been unclear in this and other lethal prey-predator systems. We show that individual snakes assess their own resistance relative to newt toxicity and reject prey too toxic to consume. Rejected newts all survived attacks and attempted ingestion by snakes that sometimes lasted over 50 min. Behavioral moderation of toxin exposure by snakes provides the association between individual resistance and fitness necessary for coevolution of lethal toxins and resistance to occur.
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Vol. 59 • No. 2