A mother jaguar and her 8-month old male cub climb further up the tree, trying to avoid a swarming mob below. Unable to carry up the capybara she recently killed, the female jaguar drops it as the cats make their rapid upward escape, ultimately spending the next 10 hours up the tree.
The jaguars’ adversaries were not what you might think. They were white-lipped peccaries, pig-like animals that often serve as prey for the majestic spotted cats. These ungulates (hoofed animals) are found from Mexico to Argentina and often occur in groups of 150-200, while jaguars are usually solitary predators, except for mothers with cubs.
This amazing scenario is one of several similar events recently published in the journal Acta Ethologica which demonstrate the complexities of what were once thought to be simple predator/prey interactions.
In this case, the researchers have video proof that the peccaries (prey) engage in mobbing behavior toward a predator. Mobbing is when individuals or a group of prey attack or harass a predator until the predator leaves the area or stops pursuing them. Anti-predator behaviors, including alarm calls and guarding young, as well as mobbing have previously been reported in primates, birds and ungulates.
Although scientists had heard anecdotal reports of this behavior in the past, these researchers were able to catch the mobbing peccaries on video camera traps. In one video, a group of 15 peccaries were seen at the base of a tree with a jaguar in it, clacking their canines with their hackles raised. Later they chased the jaguar into the Brazilian forest. In other videos, the peccaries were not deterred even though the jaguar they were mobbing snarled, hissed and fake-charged them.
Prey spend time and energy and put themselves at risk through anti-predation behaviors like mobbing, but they aren’t the only ones incurring a cost. This video showed direct evidence that the peccary prey actually disrupted the predator's ability to successfully catch or consume prey. Far from the simple “eat or be eaten,” scientists are continuing to discover more complexities of predator-prey interactions.