Spotted hyenas can increase survival rates by hunting alone

July 16, 2008

Recent research by Michigan State University doctoral student Jennifer Smith has shed new light on the way spotted hyenas live together and – more importantly – hunt for their food alone.

In a paper recently published in the journal Animal Behaviour, Smith, a student in MSU's Department of Zoology, shows that while spotted hyenas know the value of living together in large, cooperative societies, they also realize that venturing on their own now and then to hunt for food is often the key to their survival.

"Although spotted hyenas do cooperatively hunt, there is a large cost for doing that," said Smith, who did her research at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. "This cost is feeding competition within their own group."

The problem is that spotted hyenas live in a social group, they all know each other and there is a well-established hierarchy. So when a kill is made, it is the spotted hyenas that are higher up on the totem pole that get to eat.

Smith and colleagues report that spotted hyenas do join forces to protect themselves from danger. They aggregate to defend their food from their natural enemy – the lion, and cooperate during turf battles with neighboring hyenas. And, it is easier for spotted hyenas to catch prey when they do so in teams.

"Although spotted hyenas are 20 percent more likely to capture prey with one or more members of their social group, cooperative hunting results in multiple new competitors showing up because former allies quickly turn into noisy competitors once the kill is made," she said. "So it's the individual, especially if he or she is low in the hierarchy, that suffers a cost for having group members at that prey."

It is known that more than a million years ago spotted hyenas were solitary scavengers. "My research," said Smith, "shows because there is this cost of competition, that spotted hyenas retained this ability to remove themselves from the larger social group to hunt."

Scientifically speaking, this is known as fission-fusion dynamics – members of the same society repeatedly splitting up from the group (fission) and then reuniting (fusion).

"Human societies exhibit fission-fusion dynamics," Smith said. "For example, we repeatedly depart from our loved ones in the morning and then rejoin them in the evening."

Spotted hyenas, like humans, frequently leave one another but rejoin on a regular basis to maintain social relationships, especially with family members.

Source: Michigan State University

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Microsoft describes hard-to-mimic authentication gesture

August 1, 2015

Photos. Messages. Bank account codes. And so much more—sit on a person's mobile device, and the question is, how to secure them without having to depend on lengthy password codes of letters and numbers. Vendors promoting ...

Netherlands bank customers can get vocal on payments

August 1, 2015

Are some people fed up with remembering and using passwords and PINs to make it though the day? Those who have had enough would prefer to do without them. For mobile tasks that involve banking, though, it is obvious that ...

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

Model shows how surge in wealth inequality may be reversed

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—For many Americans, the single biggest problem facing the country is the growing wealth inequality. Based on income tax data, wealth inequality in the US has steadily increased since the mid-1980s, with the top ...

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.