The Hunt: A Natural History Series That Challenges Us To Side With The Predators

Were here to expose another side to nature, red in tooth and claw. Predators are commonly perceived as being ferocious successful hunters and their prey as having little or no chance of survival once the hunt is on. The truth however, is that hunts often fail. Even for the most powerful and formidable predators, failing is more prevalent than success.

The Hunt, a new OU/ BBC series generated by Silverback Films and narrated by David Attenborough, looks at different habitats and the challenges each presents to both predators and prey. The depict highlights how wild animals can only be understood by considering the habitat in which they evolved. While stealth, ingenuity or camouflage may work in one surrounding, staman, strength or velocity may be needed in another.

Arctic wolves have lots of stamina as there isnt much food around. Silverback Films

Both predators and prey are caught up in an evolutionary arms race where over hour predators evolve traits that attain them better hunters and prey evolve more effective defenses to escape capture, and so on. So, for an antelope that relies on speed and agility to avoid capture, merely the most wonderful, most agile survive but the same also applies to their predators.

The upshot is that both predator and prey become better adapted, but neither reach a significant survival advantage over the other. As the Queen said to Alice in Lewis Carrolls Through the Looking Glass: It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. This is known as the Red Queen hypothesis: organisms constantly evolve to keep up with their foes who themselves evolve in response.

The series, which we worked on as academic consultants, captures hunting behaviour that has not been filmed and in some cases not even seen before: polar bears climbing 300 metres up a cliff in search of chicks and eggs; Darwins bark spider, only described in 2010, constructing a web by spraying a strand of silk 25 metres across a river to serve as a bridging line from which the web is hung( the silk is ten times stronger than Kevlar, information materials used in bullet-proof jackets ); and footage of Arctic foxes leaping vertically into the air, plucking auks out of the sky.

Cheetahs Are Natures Sports Cars

The series’ vehicle chase footage of African wild dogs, achieved utilizing gyro-stabilised camera mounted on a vehicle, puts you alongside the pack as they hunt. It shows why they are the most successful hunters on the plains and can bring down prey ten periods their size: they hunt in co-ordinated packs led by a dominant individual and have immense stamina, travelling up to 60 km/ h for up to 5 km.

Strength in numbers entails wild puppies can take on much better animals. BBC/ Silverback

Unlike wild puppies who depend on stamina and cooperation, cheetahs are largely solitary hunters relying on speed and agility. They are recognised as the most wonderful land mammal on earth. A recent survey of naturally hunting cheetahs recorded a male, named Ferrari, at a top speed of 93 km/ hr( 58 mph ).

But in spite of their ability to run incredibly fast, cheetahs rarely hunt at top speed; to be successful, they have to balance pace with the agility required to catch animals like gazelles that use quick turns as an escape tactic. When going flat out, cheetahs cant way these turns efficiently. They therefore make a trade off velocity for manoeuvrability which is a common strategy in biological systems.

The slow motion photography used to movie their hunts gives a sense of both nimbleness and speed but also their astounding power 120 watts per kg of muscle twice that of greyhounds and four times that of racehorses. Usain Bolt produced only 25 watts/ kg during his 100 metre world record.

Its Not Just Big Mammals

The series also explores the tactics of some smaller, less familiar predators. Jumping spiders of the genus Portia feed on other spiders and showing remarkably complex and flexible hunting behaviour for an animal with a brain made up of just a few neurons.

Smarter than it appears. Huw Cordey/ Silverback Films

In fact their capacity to innovate and learn is more reminiscent of puppies and cats. Their hunting behaviour is visually guided and includes aggressive mimicry, a sort of deception where, on locating a spider, they manipulate the web by plucking it, mimicking a small ensnared insect. Portia can generate an virtually unlimited number of signals and adjusts them in response to feedback from prey. In other terms, they derive signals through trial and error problem-solving behaviour you wouldnt expect from a spider.

If subterfuge doesnt run Portia switches tactic, scheming the route to its prey and taking detours even when direct routes are available. For example when approaching a spewing spider they approach from the rear even though it is this means going out of their way. But even this behaviour is flexible, as spewing spiders that are carrying eggs and cannot spit are approached head on. Constructing pre-planned detours when hunting prey is the sort of sophisticated behaviour you see in lions; it seems by making best employ of limited brain resources a small spider can achieve a predatory strategy that rivals that of a large mammal.

Predators Under Threat

The Hunt induces one acutely aware that many of the animals featured and many others on Earth are under threat because of conflict with humen. The final program in the series addresses some of the conservation initiatives around the world that recognise many iconic predators are struggling to survive in a world that, for them, is shrinking rapidly.

Endangered lions are losing their status as Africas apex predators. Ellen Husain/ Silverback Films

Co-existing with big predators is possible, but necessitates commitment, compromise and dedication. Without concerted endeavor, big iconic predators such as lions, leopards, polar bears and harpy eagles as well as many small but equally important ones, could disappear entirely from the wild.

The new series presents predators in a refreshing and thought-provoking way they are not just relentless murderers but animals that work hard for a snack, relying on stealth, stamina, velocity, ingenuity, cooperation and sometimes simply luck. At times, instead of rooting for the hunted, youll find yourself cheering on the hunter.

Miranda Dyson, Senior Lecturer in Biology, The Open University and Vicky Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Biology, The Open University

Read more: www.iflscience.com

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