Small prey hunting tactics

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Small prey hunting tactics

Post by duskypack » Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:50 pm

So, I've been doing some research on the tactics that wolves use for smaller prey and how they hunt them. I understand that there's probably less information on the hunting of smaller prey because, of course, it's not as obvious as a pack of wolves chasing a massive elk across an empty plain.

Firstly, seeing as they are opportunists, will they usually attempt to hunt smaller prey if they happen to find it or will they entirely ignore it on most occasions (in short, do they always hunt small prey or is it rarer)?

Do they purposefully track smaller game in the same manner as they would a herd of ungulates? Would they rely more on the element of surprise (stalk and pounce) or do they tire their prey out (such as chasing a rabbit long distance until it gets exhausted). How succesful and frequent are these hunts, seeing as it takes more meat to feed a 100-pound animal.

In particular, how would wolf pups learn to hunt smaller game (would they follow and watch/imitate an older wolf hunting)? Would they go after mice and such more since they don't need as much food? Would adult wolves frequently bring whole carcasses back to the pups for them to eat as they grow older and more capable of tearing into meat?

I doubt all, or even most of these questions could be answered but I'd appreciate any help/direction to resources for further research you can supply. Unfortunately I don't have very many resources of my own to consult.

I've been mostly observing videos of coyotes and their young for reference. Would that be too misleading, or would coyote/wolf tactics for small prey be similar or identical?
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by SolitaryHowl » Fri Feb 24, 2017 12:56 pm

Relatively little of the wolf's total food comes from small prey - the majority are from ungulates (elk, bison, deer, etc).

When I have more time, I'll scan through my wolf reference books to find answers on your other questions.
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by duskypack » Fri Feb 24, 2017 3:36 pm

SolitaryHowl wrote:Relatively little of the wolf's total food comes from small prey - the majority are from ungulates (elk, bison, deer, etc).

When I have more time, I'll scan through my wolf reference books to find answers on your other questions.
I was aware, but I didn't realize just how little they hunted smaller prey until I found virtually no information (except for medium-sized prey, like beavers, but there was only a little more on that).
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by loboLoco » Fri Feb 24, 2017 4:59 pm

In Yellowstone, elk comprise about 75% of wolf diet, with most of the rest being mule deer and bison (and the latter only recently a significant percentage, as wolves have learned how to take them down). I think that the effort required isn't that much different for different prey, so might as well focus on the biggest payoff.
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by CapriciousCeilican » Sun Feb 26, 2017 2:21 am

From Wolves on the Hunt by L. David Mech, Douglas W. Smith, and Daniel R. Macnulty page 144

"Wolves are opportunists that will eat almost anything. That includes just about any animal and many types of fruits, such as berries and melons (Peterson and Ciucci 2003). Mech (1970, 169) claimed that 'the wolf cannot survive on plants.' However, that assertion has never been tested, and given more recent information that wolves eat many types of fruit and that many captive wolves are fed primarily on dry dog food, one could be skeptical of Mech's claim. However we now know that wolves lack certain enzymes for digesting starch (Axelson et al. 2013), so it seems more likely that wolves cannot survive on plants for long periods.
All that aside, most wolves customarily eat freshly caught animals, usually hoofed creatures. Other types of food as well as carrion tend to help sustain wolves over periods of food shortages when the animals become more desperate. As indicated in previous chapters, wolves in most areas ordinarily hunt deer, elk, caribou, moose, and other undulates. Nevertheless, under various circumstances, wolves do hunt, kill, and eat other types of prey. These circumstances include the following: (1) when primary prey are unavailable, scarce, or less vulnerable; (2) when alternate prey are abundant and/or easily caught; and (3) when wolves are traveling to find, catch, and kill regular prey and happen on other creatures.
This chapter covers these alternate prey species, including such creatures as pronghorn antelopes, wild horses, wild boars, seals, beavers, hares, ground squirrels, waterfowl, salmon, and mice. Not much information is available except isolated anecdotes for most of these species, except for arctic hares. More information is available for wolves hunting arctic hares than for the other alternate prey species because in some areas these large hares form a high percentage of the wolf's diet (Tener 1954a) and because wolf-arctic hare interactions have been studied more than such interactions between wolves and other small prey (Mech 2007b). Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, we include whatever observations we could find of wolves hunting these other prey."

That should answer most of your questions, however, in regards to how they hunt alternative prey, it depends on the animal in question. From what I can tell, they hunt pronghorn antelope in a similar manner to most other undulates. The only available information on hunting wild boar is this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8Zbjz76iIs, which could have been staged, but does offer some insight. The conditions for hunting seal are rare, as they would need to catch them on land, and away from their ice hole or shore. When hunting beaver, the same principle applies, and wolves will wait beside beaver runways to ambush them. From what I read in the book, it seems arctic hares are pursued whenever they are found, with the majority of the kills being young ones. Occasionally, wolves will hunt salmon and possibly some other varieties of fish, and will wait until the fish comes close before biting it and dragging it from the water. (YouTube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXiGvoKdCIM) Wolves will sometimes flush geese from their nests and consume the eggs, killing the adults whenever possible. One can safely say wolves hunt mice in a similar manner to foxes, via listening and pouncing, however wolves pounce in a more horizontal manner than foxes. Like stated previously, wolves only tend to hunt these other game when their primary source is unavailable or if the opportunity presents itself. Think of smaller game as "supplements" or "appetizers" for wolves.

I'll get back to you on how pups interact with alternative game, as I need to do a bit of scrounging to find it (if such information is available at all), but my current guess is that they would watch in the same manner they do before they are able to join in on hunting larger game, and may be inclined to practice with leaves, twigs, or the like.

It's unlikely adult wolves would drag a carcass anywhere, as this would expend valuable energy for little gain. When pups are too young to join on hunts, but old enough to eat semi-solid food, (roughly 2-6 months old), the adult wolves will regurgitate the pup's share until they are old enough to accompany them (6-8 months), in which case the carcass is readily available for the pups to eat.

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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by duskypack » Sat Mar 04, 2017 2:24 pm

Thank you so much, that's very helpful (sorry for the late response, I didn't see it until now)! I'll look into that book, I didn't realize it existed until now.
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by CapriciousCeilican » Thu Mar 09, 2017 9:18 am

duskypack wrote:Thank you so much, that's very helpful (sorry for the late response, I didn't see it until now)! I'll look into that book, I didn't realize it existed until now.
Bought it from here: https://shop.wolf.org/category_s/35.htm
The book was published in 2015, so information should be recent, though some observations noted in the book are a bit dated. I also bought Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation, though it was published in 2003, and just to forewarn you if you get it, it's a massive textbook.

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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by SolitaryHowl » Thu Mar 09, 2017 10:09 am

HollowedWyld wrote:
duskypack wrote:Thank you so much, that's very helpful (sorry for the late response, I didn't see it until now)! I'll look into that book, I didn't realize it existed until now.
Bought it from here: https://shop.wolf.org/category_s/35.htm
The book was published in 2015, so information should be recent, though some observations noted in the book are a bit dated. I also bought Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation, though it was published in 2003, and just to forewarn you if you get it, it's a massive textbook.
Thanks for that! I looked up the first book on wolf.org (already have the second one), but the shipping price is ridiculous for me ($46. I live in Canada, so its not like its overseas!). Guess its going on my Christmas list. I want to support the IWC (I'm a huge fan & I follow their wolves on facebook), but I can't afford that outrageous shipping charge. :/
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by loboLoco » Thu Mar 09, 2017 12:47 pm

"Wolves on the Hunt" is available as an ebook, if that's the one you're referring to. It's really good.
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by Koa » Fri Apr 07, 2017 9:45 pm

All of this appears to be solid information but I have been meaning to make one clarification, and will do so now.
HollowedWyld wrote: I'll get back to you on how pups interact with alternative game, as I need to do a bit of scrounging to find it (if such information is available at all), but my current guess is that they would watch in the same manner they do before they are able to join in on hunting larger game, and may be inclined to practice with leaves, twigs, or the like.
I am unsure how intentionally wolf pups would practice with materials like leaves and twigs; the only claim I have found regarding hunting practice through the usage of materials (e.g. antlers) was from Shaun Ellis, and he is not a reliable source of information.

From my understanding, instinct is sufficient enough so that practice does not occur. Jane M. Packard emphasizes the importance of "genetic programming" to hunting in Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation:
The propensity to chase and capture small moving animals appears to be genetically programmed in wolves, since it occurs without practice in hand-reared individuals (Sullivan 1979; Zimen 1981). I have watched 3-month-old wolf pups in Yellowstone repeatedly "mouse-pounce" in the stereotyped canid pattern (Fox 1971a, 1975).
page 52

Also, Packard believes that an alternative method of learning is possible besides physical action. When an arctic hare was killed by a father wolf, the pups ran from the screams, rather than running to witness "one of their first lessons in killing prey," as Packard "naively expected [them]" to do so (51). After the father brought the hare carcass to the pups, she instead claims that the pups "could have learned the association between food and the screams of the hare" (52).
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by CapriciousCeilican » Sat Apr 08, 2017 12:28 am

Thank you, Koa. That was just my best guess since I couldn't find anything about it at the time(and then got busy with other stuff and forgot all about it).

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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by Pegasos » Sun Jun 11, 2017 6:50 am

loboLoco wrote:In Yellowstone, elk comprise about 75% of wolf diet, with most of the rest being mule deer and bison (and the latter only recently a significant percentage, as wolves have learned how to take them down).
Interesting fact. I didn't expect the elk comprise even 75% of wolves diet and the most of the rest is mule deer. I don't know but here, in Northern Europe wolves comprise diet is most likely reindeer and moose.
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Re: Small prey hunting tactics

Post by Koa » Sun Jun 11, 2017 8:47 am

I will lock this thread as the question has been adequately answered. Pegasos, if you want to discuss wolf diet, please head to General Wolf Discussion.
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