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Some animals hunt alone, and they do this very successfully. But imagine the benefits of grouping together; the chances of catching a meal become much higher. Many species including lions, spiders, and wolves hunt together and this is an effective survival technique.
What is Cooperative Hunting?
Cooperative hunters are often called pack hunters. Instead of a single animal hunting alone, two or more will group together to make an effective attack on their prey. In many instances, this is a phenomenon that occurs within the same species but it’s not unheard of for two different species to come together and reap the benefits of their hard work.
Pack hunting usually works in one of two ways; using a coordinated attack or through distraction.
The distraction method works with one or more animals creating a diversion to take the prey’s attention away from the oncoming attack. Other members of the group will then go in for the kill on the unsuspecting victim. This is a common technique used by many species including African wild dogs. These animals are known to strengthen their social bonds by greeting one another before an attack takes place.
On the other hand, some animals, like wolves, will come together to create a highly coordinated attack whereby they will surround their prey, making it impossible for them to get away. It’s then simply a matter of going in and making the kill. When doing this, packs are able to isolate more vulnerable members of their prey group such as the weak or very young. What’s more, coordinated attacks allow the group to hunt much larger animals than they’d ever be able to attack on their own.
Benefits of Cooperative Hunting
The benefits of cooperative hunting are primarily associated with catching a meal. However, there are many other advantages to using this technique.
- One of the most obvious benefits is that, when hunting in a group, animals have a much greater chance of catching their prey. Not only this, but they are able to protect their prey from scavengers.
- While a lone African wild dog might not be able to take down something as large as a cape buffalo or a zebra, as a team, they’re able to hone in on these large animals for a substantial meal that will feed the whole pack.
- When hunting in a group, animals have a much higher success rate because some of the team is used as a distraction. Prey animals will be focused on getting away from this distraction, not realizing that the real threat is coming from a different direction.
- As I mentioned earlier, some species will perform social rituals before and after a hunt and this enables them to strengthen their social bonds. There are usually hierarchies within these packs, and hunting is one of the ways that they establish them. For younger members of the pack, being involved in these hunts allows them to learn the techniques they’ll need to survive as adults.
- When hunting larger animals, an individual is likely to sustain an injury or may even be attacked by another predator that wants to go in for the kill. But when hunting in a group, members can offer one another protection.
Animals that Engage in Cooperative Hunting
Animals all around the world engage in cooperative hunting, and it’s a behavior that’s seen in mammals, insects, and even fish.
There are two main species of wolf; the gray wolf and the Ethiopian wolf. But what is common between them is the way that they hunt in packs. In fact, wolves are so well known for this that they’re usually the first species you’d think of if asked to come up with a pack animal.
What’s interesting is that, while we’ve known for a long time that wolves are pack animals, recent studies have shown that they’re a lot more social than we ever could have imagined. As you can imagine, there is something of a social hierarchy with the dominant male being the pack leader. Subordinate wolves have even been seen to show submissive behavior after a fight with a more dominant member of the pack in order to strengthen relationships that are beneficial during hunting.
The territory of a single wolf pack can be as large as 1000 square miles (2589 square kilometers), so it’s important that all the pack members are on the lookout for prey at all times, which is the first step in their hunting methods.
Wolves typically hunt animals like caribou, elk, deer, and moose and once a prey animal is located, the pack will begin to stalk it. The wolves will try to draw out weaker members of herds and will eventually circle the prey, further testing for its weaknesses. However, if the prey tries to escape, it won’t get very far, as the entire pack will chase it. Once caught, it only takes one wolf to take it down with a strong bite to the rump or nose that brings them to the ground.
Lions are ambush predators and they have a perfectly coordinated method of attack. Within a group of lions, known as a pride, between three and seven individuals will be responsible for hunting. While it’s long been believed that female lions do the, well lion’s share of the hunting, evidence has now proven this theory wrong and males are, in fact, just as capable.
Regardless of gender, the lions will split into two teams; those that encircle the prey and one dominant lion that waits at the center.
The lions form a circle around the intended victim, which could be something like a warthog, buffalo, or wildebeest, and drive it to a central point. It’s here that one of the larger or older members of the pride lies in wait to make the attack.
It’s also been observed that each lion within the group has his or her own role. In each hunt, the same lions performed the same role, which makes for a much more successful kill.
3. African Wild Dogs
Within a pack of African wild dogs, there could be as many as 40 members. It’s the alpha male that leads the cooperative hunting efforts, but all other members do not have a key role and work together to chase the prey.
These dogs typically hunt for animals like antelopes and warthogs but will also go after smaller prey like rodents and birds owing to their opportunistic nature.
Before hunting begins, the African wild dog pack will have a ritualistic ceremony that gears each of the members up, preparing them for the hunt. When they’re ready, all of the pack will begin chasing their intended prey, but there will be several lines so that, if the prey tries to dash off in a certain direction, there’ll always be another dog ready to pounce.
However, they’re not always successful, and while African wild dogs can chase their prey at speeds of up to 37 mph (60 km/h), they’ll typically give up after around five minutes if no kill has been made.
Dolphins might not be the first animals that spring to mind when you think of a voracious hunter, but these intelligent marine mammals have some amazing hunting strategies and they rely on one other to be successful.
It’s the bottlenose dolphin that catches our attention here, and these creatures form hunting groups of up to six members out of a pod that could contain up to 30 individuals. However, it has been noted that pods may sometimes combine to form a super pod which could be made up of thousands of dolphins. There’s one dolphin that acts as the leader, or driver, and it’s his or her responsibility to send fish in the direction of the other members.
The remaining dolphins form a barrier and, as the driver slaps the fish into the air, the dolphins are in the perfect position to snap them up as they leap out of the water.
Not only this, but dolphins off the coast of Australia were observed using shells as tools to catch a meal. This seems to be a learned skill as onlooking dolphins will pick up these skills from their peers.
Commonly known as the killer whale, it’ll come as no surprise that the orca is one of the most adept hunters in the sea. These giant mammals can weigh up to 11 tonnes and have 3 inch (7.6 cm) long teeth that interlock in the mouth. All this and they can swim at up to 30 mph (48 km/h).
Orcas use a technique called carousel hunting, which was first observed in the bottlenose dolphin. The whales will use a two-step attack which first involves herding their prey (Norwegian herring) into a small circle within the center of the group.
Next, the pod will gather more tightly around the fish and slap the water, driving them to the surface. Once there, some of the orcas will begin feeding while the others continue to herd in more herring.
What’s really interesting is that there has been evidence of orcas preying on the ultimate marine hunter; the great white shark! And these killers are particularly fussy about how their meals are served; they don’t eat the whole fish and will discard the head and spine.
6. Army Ants
If you’ve ever observed ants, you’ll be familiar with how well they work as a group. When it comes to hunting, there is no exception and army ants are so perfectly coordinated in their hunting strategy that they’re able to take down prey as large as worms and snakes! That said, their usual prey includes things like spiders and insects.
Highly social creatures, army ants can form colonies that number millions and, because of these large numbers, there’s a serious need for a reliable food source.
They may be tiny as individuals, but in their large groups, these ants can quickly overwhelm prey. Unlike other ant species that send out individual scouts, army ants head out to hunt in massive groups. What’s more, they know that they could quickly exhaust their resources, so they also engage in nomadic behavior, moving between nests to make the most of hunting and foraging opportunities.
Most people imagine sharks as being solitary creatures, stalking the depths of the ocean for their unsuspecting prey. While this is largely true, pairs of great whites have been observed spending time together, especially in feeding zones. Studies in Australia showed that while most sharks were true lone hunters, several pairs were observed spending a significant amount of time together and would even repeatedly show up in the same pairs at dive sites.
When it comes to cooperative hunting, these giant feared fish, a 2001 study showed that great whites would gather in large numbers around feeding areas and eavesdrop on one another. While this may be a direct attempt at cooperative hunting, the sharks did seem to be taking clues from others as to where the best chance of a meal was.
Various species of reef sharks in the South Pacific have also been seen to hunt in packs. But interestingly, they’re not working together but reaping the benefits of each others’ hunting techniques. Then, the shark that is the fastest takes the prize.
Chimpanzees are among some of the most intelligent primates and they’re closely related to humans and it’s even been suggested that both chimps and humans inherited their hunting techniques from a common ancestor.
For the longest time, it was thought that chimps survived on a vegetarian diet but there have since been many examples of these animals hunting larger mammals for food, like pangolins, flying squirrels, and even antelope!
It’s usually the males that hunt and they can gather in groups of up to 30 to do this. In an organized hunt, the group will chase its prey, but there are plenty of examples of a group of chimps surrounding a prey when the opportunity presents itself.
In a lot of cases, a particularly gutsy male will initiate the hunt for a monkey, trying to escape up a tree. Vocal communication is key in enlisting the help of other members of the group and, once a kill is made, the chimps will split the meat between other members.
9. Harris Hawks
Most bird species forage and hunt alone but Harris hawks are totally different. Gathering in groups of up to six, it’s thought that these raptors adopted this behavior due to a lack of prey in the environment. When more of them come together, there’s a greater chance of snapping up a meal.
These birds use one of two cooperative hunting methods with the first being the group forming a circle around its prey (usually small birds, mammals, and lizards but sometimes large insects) and one member flushing out the victim.
Alternatively, the Harris hawks may form a small group within a larger group that will fly ahead to look for prey. An individual will then take the lead in search of food. Once prey is successfully caught, they’ll share it between individuals.
10. Aplomado Falcons
The Aplomado falcon is a raptor found mainly in South America. These birds feed on a diet of both insects and small rodents. When hunting for insects, they usually search for food on their own, but when it comes to hunting bigger prey, they’ll team up with other members of the same species.
This sometimes occurs between mated pairs, and in studies, it was observed that, when chasing birds, as many as 29% of hunts involved these pairs. But in most cases, the birds will team up with another random Aplomado falcon, and scientists noticed that out of 349 hunts, as many as 66% were performed in tandem with both birds chasing the same victim for a greater success rate.
In many cases, large numbers of these birds will gather in fields that are being burned, ready to attack any small rodents and birds trying to escape. Within these mass gatherings, the birds will form pairs for hunting.
Usually, when you see spiders, they’re alone. But there are some species of social spider that hunt in highly synchronized groups. Spiders within the Stegodyphus genus have been seen moving together and even building communal webs in order to catch insect prey.
There is no hierarchy within the group in terms of hunting, but each spider will use any part of the communal web. However, once prey is caught, other spiders will benefit from the kill, and with large prey, it may even require two or more spiders to move it into the nest to be shared among the colony.
The size of the prey largely depends on the number of individuals within the colony and how many of those spiders go out to hunt. What’s more, further studies have shown that not all spiders on the communal web may move at once. When there are greater vibrations from the prey, this indicates a larger size, so more spiders will approach it to make the kill.
12. Moray Eel & Grouper
What’s super interesting about coordinating hunting is that not all efforts are done by the same species groups. Under the water, the moray eel and the grouper come together in a phenomenon known as interspecific mutualistic hunting.
This serves as a beneficial relationship for both species. The grouper will approach the eel’s resting spot when it feels hungry and will use body language cues, such as head shaking, to tell the eel that prey is nearby. With the help of the eels, it’s been noted in studies that groupers are able to catch their prey five times more quickly.
This is the first time that this kind of behavior has been noted outside of primate groups and was first recorded in the Red Sea. Moreover, by combining their efforts, the two species are able to use their differing hunting techniques for greater results. While eels hunt in the crevices around rocks, groupers hunt in open water.