California scrub-jays reduce visual cues available to potential pilferers by matching food colour to caching substrate
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
Some animals hide food to consume later, however these caches are susceptible to theft by conspecifics and heterospecifics. Caching animals can use protective strategies to minimise sensory cues available to potential pilferers, such as caching in shaded areas and in quiet substrate. Background matching (where object patterning matches the visual background) is commonly seen in prey animals to reduce conspicuousness, and caching animals may also use this tactic to hide caches, for example by hiding coloured food in a similar coloured substrate. We tested whether California scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) camouflage their food in this way by offering them caching substrates that either matched or did not match the colour of food available for caching. We also determined whether this caching behavior was sensitive to social context by allowing the birds to cache when a conspecific potential pilferer could be both heard and seen (acoustic and visual cues present), or unseen (acoustic cues only). When caching events could be both heard and seen by a potential pilferer, birds cached randomly in matching and nonmatching substrates. However, they preferentially hid food in the substrate that matched the food colour when only acoustic cues were present. This is a novel cache protection strategy that also appears to be sensitive to social context. We conclude that studies of cache protection strategies should consider the perceptual capabilities of the cacher and potential pilferers.
LAK received funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement PIIF-GA-2012-327423.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the Royal Society via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 13 (7), article 20170242