Fish perform rapid escape responses to avoid sudden predatory attacks. During escape responses, fish bend their bodies into a C-shape and quickly turn away from the predator and accelerate. The escape trajectory is determined by the initial turn (stage 1) and a contralateral bend (stage 2). Previous studies have used a single threat or model predator as a stimulus. In nature, however, multiple predators may attack from different directions simultaneously or in close succession. It is unknown whether fish are able to change the course of their escape response when startled by multiple stimuli at various time intervals. Pacific staghorn sculpin (Leptocottus armatus) were startled with a left and right visual stimulus in close succession. By varying the timing of the second stimulus, we were able to determine when and how a second stimulus could affect the escape response direction. Four treatments were used: a single visual stimulus (control); or two stimuli coming from opposite sides separated by a 0 ms (simultaneous treatment), 33 ms or 83 ms time interval. The 33 ms and 83 ms time intervals were chosen to occur either side of a predicted 60 ms visual escape latency (i.e. during stage 1). The 0 ms and 33 ms treatments influenced both the escape trajectory and the stage 1 turning angle, compared with a single stimulation, whereas the 83 ms treatment had no effect on the escape trajectory. We conclude that Pacific staghorn sculpin can modulate their escape trajectory only between stimulation and the onset of the response, but the escape trajectory cannot be modulated after the body motion has started.

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