Eyespots (patterns of roughly concentric rings) are often thought to have an anti-predator function. Previous experiments have lent support for the intimidation hypothesis by demonstrating a deterring effect of eyespots, but so far there is little evidence for the deflective effect (direction of attacks toward less vital body parts). We studied predators' responses towards large and small eyespots and towards prey with no, one, or a pair of eyespots and if this response is influenced by whether or not prey blend into background. In two experiments, we used artificial, triangular prey items and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) as predators. In experiment 1, we found evidence for the deflective effect of small but not large eyespots, independent of whether the prey was presented on a concealing or exposing background. In experiment 2, we found that predators avoided the prey with a pair of small eyespots more than the prey without eyespots, but interestingly, we only found this deterring effect on the concealing background. There was no difference in attacks between the prey with one large and two small or one large and no eyespots. We conclude that deflective function may select for eyespots, and background may influence the deterring function of eyespots.
- Prey coloration