A puzzling note on the function of distress-calling

Various animals, when attacked by a predator, scream.

I have surmised that a main adaptive function of this behaviour is to attract other predators, boosting the chance that the victim may be able to escape in the ensuing confusion and conflict between the original attacker and a subsequent, more powerful one.

Interspecies antagonism and competition, and freeloading, seems common among predators. Thus, I interpret distress-calling not according to the intuitive human explanation, viz. calling conspecifics to defence, but in an alternative light, i.e. directed not at conspecifics but at even more formidable predators.

With this idea in mind, I note the following comments on Oryctolagus cuniculus (https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/43151-Oryctolagus-cuniculus) and Lepus europaeus (https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/43128-Lepus-europaeus), made by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Vesey-Fitzgerald) in his book 'British Game' (https://www.harringtonbooks.co.uk/pages/books/58907/brian-vesey-fitzgerald/british-game-the-new-naturalist-library-2).

This provides food for deep thought on the adaptive value of distress-calling in the wild rabbit.

"Only the doe tends the young, and timid as she is, she will fight fiercely - even attacking a stoat in defence of the litter...Normally excessively timid, there have been records of bucks (males of the rabbit) turning upon and routing stoats. The kick of a big buck rabbit is powerful, and I have known a large tom-cat put to flight by a doe in defence of her young. But this sort of thing is exceptional. It is much more usual for a rabbit hunted byna stoat to run only a few yards and then sit down and wait for death, screaming piteously the while. A 'stoated' rabbit, indeed, seems to be hypnotised, and it is noteworthy that other rabbits seem to know that they are not in danger. I well remember hearing a rabbit scream very close to me in Dorset once, and on looking over a bank I saw plenty of rabbits playing about unconcernedly and one moving very slowly screaming loudly. In due course a stoat appeared, the playful rabbits made way (giving it a wide berth and showing no sign of fear), and killed the screaming rabbit. It seemed quite evident that those rabbits knew they were in no danger...hares if not killed outright scream in an almost human manner, like small children that have been hurt. And so I hate shooting hares".

Posted on 26 December, 2022 08:09 by milewski milewski


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