Tadpoles of many species develop enlarged tail fins in the presence of insect predators, but the function of this response is not known. Because large tails do not improve swimming performance, we tested the hypothesis that the tail attracts predator strikes away from the more vulnerable head and body region. We first confirmed the assumption that attacks to the tail are less dangerous: Living tadpoles escaped from dragonfly larvae only 10% of the time when the strike landed on the head and body but 29.4% of the time when struck on the tail. We then constructed model tadpoles having four tail shapes: normal, predator-induced, and 50% shallower and 50% deeper than normal. The models were presented to dragonflies and the location at which the insect's labium struck the model was noted. Models having the predator-induced tail sustained 16% fewer strikes to the head and body than did models with the noninduced tail, lending credibility to the hypothesis that the tail acts as a lure. Models with an unnaturally large tail were attacked more often on the body than was the predator-induced model, which may create stabilizing selection on tail shape.
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