Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 62, Issue 6, pp 923–933 | Cite as

Wait before running for your life: defensive tactics of spiny mice (Acomys cahirinus) in evading barn owl (Tyto alba) attack

Original Paper


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.


Flight initiation distance (FID) Anti-predator behavior Predator–prey interactions Predation risk 



We are grateful to Maoz Perlman and Yelena Golan for their help in the experimentation and analyses, to the zookeepers of the I. Meier Segals Garden for Zoological Research for their help in rearing the owls and rodents, and to Naomi Paz for editing the manuscript. This study was carried out under the regulations and approval of the Institutional Committee for Animal Experimentation (permit #L-05-059). The design carefully followed the Guidelines for the Treatment of Animals in Behavioural Research and Teaching (Animal Behaviour 2001) with special emphasis on the Guidelines for Staged Encounters as outlined by Huntingford (1984).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyTel-Aviv UniversityRamat-AvivIsrael

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