Thursday, 4 July 2013

Nature’s Fearless Fighting Machines – Superb Photography


Animals fight for a variety of reasons. It may be for play, for space or, most likely, for sexual dominance. Here, with the help of some wonderful images – we take a look at a few species in the throes of fighting.

A pair of gulls fight in mid-air. Conflict is incredibly commonplace within the animal kingdom. Quite often the fights are short and based on display rather than actual physical contact and so it is difficult to capture on film. The photographer must be incredibly quick in order to get that photograph. This particular spat, for example, would have been over in seconds.

Often the fighting is between alpha males who are looking to secure dominance over a single female or perhaps even a group. The dominance of the alpha male will ensure that it is his genes that are passed on to the next generation. In many species, when a new alpha male takes over, he will deliberately seek out and kill and offspring which he has not sired. Why should he bring up other people’s kids? In other species such as the meerkat and Prairie dog it may be the females who occasionally commit infanticide in the fight to get their genes in to the next generation.

Many animals will avoid a fight and when they find themselves in a situation where they must there is an implicit ‘trust’ almost between the two animals that the fight will not lead to life-endangering injuries or lead to death. Obviously, animals do not have Emergency Rooms where they can go to get their wounds healed! Horses are an example where the fight never results in the death of one of the antagonists.

The fighting is often about the right to mate. The old idea of the survival of the fittest is an everyday fact of life in the animal kingdom, It may seem unfair to our sense of fair play but when animals must seek out their own food they must ensure that they have the optimum ‘equipment’ with which to hunt or to gather.

The male elephant seal will run his own harem and he must protect it with his life. On average male elephant seals live four years less than the females, sometimes reaching the age of twenty. This isn’t too surprising when the fact is taken in to consideration that alpha status can be reached at the age of eight. That will mean at least a dozen years of continually fending off other males. No wonder the male does not live as long as the female.

The hippo’s reputation has taken a battering over recent years with many nature documentaries showing them for the bad tempered and aggressive individuals that they truly are. These are animals that show no fear in attacking crocodiles should they get in their way. However, hippos will rarely kill each other when they fight, which is more often than not about territory. If a bachelor challenges the alpha male then the fight will be over as soon as it is clear which hippo is stronger.

Additionally, single males are allowed in to the ‘stretch’ of a bull alpha male as long as their behavior is submissive towards the alpha male. In this way hippo ‘pods’ can number up to a hundred. The differences in gender behavior have been difficult to ascertain as they are not sexually dimorphic. This means that females and young males look incredibly alike.

In all three main zebra species, young males will live together in groups. Then, when they feel the need to reproduce they will challenge the alpha male who often has a permanent harem of up to six females (except Grevy’s zebra which does not have social bonds of any permanency).

The fights between the competing males often look more violent than they are and the lesser of the two will usually retreat when he knows that he has lost. At least he can go back to the bachelor herd!

Everyone knows that kangaroos box each other and in less enlightened times they were used a fairground attractions. Most boxing is play-related but it can be done for dominance of a group or when there is competition in the great mating game. The forepaws can be used to grapple and punch but the real danger are the hugely powerful hindlegs of the animal. The toenails of the hindleg are incredibly sharp and it has been known for an opponent to be disemboweled. However, most conflicts between males do not result in life threatening injuries.

These Coots are fighting over who gets to pay attention to a female. Some species of birds allow the female to choose her mate and this is usually down to the song, plumage and sometimes the ‘dance’ of the male.

Fighting among males is not only restricted to mammals. Dragonflies are highly territorial and if a male strays in to the wrong territory then it will definitely mean a fight. In years when the population is large that can mean that territory can be disputed by more than one dragonfly at a time.

First Image Credit Flickr User Tambako The Jaguar


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