Sunday, 13 November 2016

Mobs are, sometimes, good

Date: November 8, 2016
Source: Michigan State University

Submitting to mob mentality is always a risky endeavor, for humans or hyenas. A new Michigan State University study focusing on the latter, though, shows that when it comes to battling for food, mobbing can be beneficial.

The findings, featured in the journal Current Zoology, fully describe for the first time, cooperative behavior during fights between two apex predators ¬- spotted hyenas and lions. Understanding the factors involved in the emergence of cooperation among organisms is central to the study of social evolution, said Kenna Lehmann, MSU doctoral candidate of integrative biology and study co-author.

"When hyenas mob during hyena-lion interactions, there is significant risk of injury by participating in this cooperative behavior," Lehmann said. "However, when they gang-up like this, they are more likely to win control of the food. This suggests that cooperative behavior increases fitness in hyenas."

Interestingly enough, hyenas will even mob lions when no food is present. The research team, part of University Distinguished Professor of integrative biology Kay Holekamp's lab, found that hyenas are more likely to mob lions when there are more hyenas present, regardless of food presence, fight location and how many lions are involved.

As this video shows, the interactions are intense. The mob sometimes starts small, but more hyenas enter the fray as the battle intensifies. Even against three lions, the smaller hyenas group as a single unit, giggling, growling and snapping like a hyena-headed hydra. Then, resembling a well-drilled military unit, they creep forward, drive the larger predators off a carcass and claim a feast for themselves and their clan.

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