Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 254–260 | Cite as

Horse signals: The sounds and scents of fury

  • Daniel I. Rubenstein
  • Mace A. Hack


During contests animals typically exchange information about fighting ability. Among feral horses these signals involve olfactory or acoustical elements and each type can effectively terminate contests before physical contact becomes necessary. Dung transplant experiments show that for stallions, irrespective of rank, olfactory signals such as dung sniffing encode information about familiarity suggesting that such signals can be used as signatures. As such they can provide indirect information about fighting ability as long as opponents associate identity with past performance. Play-back experiments, however, show that vocalizations, such as squeals, directly provide information about status regardless of stallion familiarity. Sonographs reveal that squeals of dominants are longer than those of subordinates and that only those of dominants have at their onset high-frequency components.


communication combat fighting ability individual identity signals information assessment displays 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Berger, J. (1986)Wild Horses of the Great Basin. Chicago University Press, Chicago, USA.Google Scholar
  2. Clutton-Brock, T. H. and Albon, S. D. (1979) The roaring of red deer and the evolution of honest advertisement.Behaviour 69, 145–70.Google Scholar
  3. Collias, J. (1943) Statistical analysis of factors which make for success in initial encounters between hens.Am. Nat. 72, 519–38.Google Scholar
  4. Conner, D. A. (1985) The function of the Pika's short call in individual recognition.Z. Tierpsychol. 67, 131–43.Google Scholar
  5. Davies, N. B. and Halliday, T. R. (1978) Deep croaks and fighting assessment in toads,Bufo bufo. Nature (Lond.) 274, 683–5.Google Scholar
  6. Duncan, P. (1983) Determinants of the use of habitat by horses in a Mediterranean wetland.J. Anim. Ecol. 52, 93–111.Google Scholar
  7. Gosling, L. M. (1982) A reassessment of the function of scent marking in territories.Z. Tierpsychol. 60, 89–118.Google Scholar
  8. Jarvi, T. and Bakken, M. (1984) The function of the variation in the breast stripe of the great tit (Parus major).Anim. Behav. 32, 590–6.Google Scholar
  9. Krebs, J. R. (1982) Territorial defence in the great tit (Parus major): Do residents always win?Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 11, 185–94.Google Scholar
  10. Maynard Smith, J. (1976) Evolution and the theory of games.Am. Sci. 64, 41–5.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Maynard Smith, J. and Parker, G. A. (1976) The logic of asymmetric contests.Anim. Behav. 24, 159–75.Google Scholar
  12. Parker, G. A. and Rubenstein, D. I. (1981) Role assessment, reserve strategy and acquisition of information in asymmetric animal conflicts.Anim. Behav. 29, 221–40.Google Scholar
  13. Robertson, J. G. (1986) Male territoriality, fighting and assessment of fighting ability in the Australian frogUperleia rugosa.Anim. Behav. 34, 763–72.Google Scholar
  14. Rohwer, S. (1975) The social significance of avian winter plumage variability.Evolution 29, 593–610.Google Scholar
  15. Rohwer, S. and Rohwer, F. C. (1978) Status signalling in harris sparrows: experimental deception achieved.Anim. Behav. 26, 1012–22.Google Scholar
  16. Rubenstein, D. I. (1981) Behavioral ecology of island feral horses.Equine Vet. J. 13, 27–34.Google Scholar
  17. Rubenstein, D. I. (1986) Ecology and sociality in horses and zebras. InEcological Aspects of Social Evolution (D. I. Rubenstein and R. W. Wrangham, eds), pp. 282–302. Princeton University Press, USA.Google Scholar
  18. Ryan, M. J. (1985)The Tungra Frog. Princeton University Press, USA.Google Scholar
  19. Whitfield, D. P. (1987) The social significance of plumage variability in wintering turnstoneArenaria interpses.Anim. Behav. 36, 408–15.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel I. Rubenstein
    • 1
  • Mace A. Hack
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSan Diego, La JollaUSA

Personalised recommendations