March 20, 2013
A group of researchers conducted a series of experiments to evaluate what they label "behavioral syndromes" of young largemouth bass.* This term refers to a set of behaviors that typify certain individuals — in this case the tendency of bass to explore a novel environment or attack unfamiliar prey.
A series of lab tests defined individual fish as explorers or nonexplorers. Exploratory bass (those most willing to enter new environments) made more strikes on prey of all sorts than nonexplorers and had a higher overall consumption rate, suggesting a link between foraging and exploratory behavior. In this study, mosquito larvae were familiar prey, tiny bluegills unfamiliar. The explorer group consumed more familiar prey, while nonexplorers ate more unfamiliar bluegills, which were more valuable from a caloric standpoint. This result surprised the researchers who had theorized the reticent bass might be less aggressive in feeding.
The team also tested feeding behavior in the presence of a predator, a larger largemouth bass. Surprising again was the result that feeding activity of explorers and nonexplorers did not differ in the presence of a potential predator, compared to behavior with no predator present.
We've noted that within a population, some bass eagerly strike lures, while others are wary. One might suppose that fish that were reluctant to strike might be at a disadvantage in terms of growth. But for largemouth bass, at least, it seems that both tentative and bold fish find and eat prey. But their choice of prey presents ramifications in lure choice for anglers.
*Nannini, A. M., J. Parkos III, and D. H. Wahl. 2012. Do behavioral syndromes affect foraging strategy and risk-taking in a juvenile fish predator? Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 141:26-33.