Are prey hard-wired to fear predators?

Preliminary data about predators and large ungulates indicates that fear is learned rather than inherent, although not all scientists agree.

Story: Are prey hard-wired to fear predators? By Brodie Farquhar. Casper Star-Tribune



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  1. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    One interesting film clip I saw was of a whitetail deer being chased by two wolves thru a lightly forested area. At one point in time the deer skidded to a stop, turned, and faced down the wolves. The wolves immediately changed demeanor and began to look disoriented and confused. They actually milled about for a few moments doing what seemed to me to be the equivalent of scratching their heads and wondering what the hell was going on. The deer did not have the mental stamina to keep the bluff up and within a few minutes broke off and began to run. As soon as the deer faced away and began to run, the wolves clicked right back into attack mode and within another 200 yards it was over.

    Those wolves sure were hard wired. The deer, good question…

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think maybe the question of learned avoidance versus inherent avoidance may be posed too simply.

    Wolves may inherently chase things — dogs and cats do. Elk might inherently be startled by things running toward them, but we can’t expect them have instinct to know that a wolf howl (which the researcher played) means anything particular.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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