Wait before running for your life: defensive tactics of spiny mice (Acomys cahirinus) in evading barn owl (Tyto alba) attack
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Raptor–prey encounters were studied to evaluate the strategies and success rate of both predator attack and prey defense. We compared the success of barn owls in catching stationary simulated prey (food item) with that of moving prey (food item that was pulled in various directions). We also tracked real encounters between barn owls and spiny mice in a captive environment. It was found that owls had higher success in attacking stationary prey and that they seemed to attack the prey as soon as it became motionless. When attacked, only a few spiny mice remained immobile (freeze response) whereas most fled and usually avoided capture by the owls. It was also found that spiny mice displayed a preference to escape in those directions in which owls had demonstrated a lower success in catching the simulated prey. Escape initiation dichotomized to a short or long (but rarely intermediate) distance between the spiny mouse and the owl with more successful avoidance at short-distance (last-moment) escapes. The best predictor of escape success was the velocity of the spiny mouse, and the second best predictor was its flight initiation distance (FID). We present an update for Ydenberg and Dill’s model for optimal FID in close encounters, suggesting that fleeing at the last moment is advantageous. However, a last-moment attempt to escape is also more risky with a split second differing between life and death, and is therefore appropriate mainly for agile prey under close-distance attack.