To avoid large predators smaller carnivores adapt to hunt in moonless nights

Asian Leopard Cat
Asian Leopard Cat

In Assam’s Manas National Park smaller carnivores, mainly belonging to cat and civet family, have adapted to hunt in dark nights to avoid predation by larger carnivores, says an ongoing study of Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute if India (WII).

The research that will conclude next year outlines how moon illumination influences mammal activity in the protected areas. Large carnivores like tigers and leopards are usually active during nights, but small carnivores as a strategy to avoid predation seem to be significantly more active during darker nights, when they could hide from large carnivores easily.

“Small carnivores showed significantly high activity in darker (moonless) nights. This pattern indicates that small predators may defer their activity temporally, as an anti-predator strategy, to co-exist with the large carnivores and increase their foraging efficiency,” Salvador Lygndoh, principal investigator and scientist heading the research said.

Small carnivores that were found to be nocturnal in Manas are jungle cat (Felis chaus), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha), small Indian civet (Viverricula indica) and Chinese ferret-badger (Melogale moschata).

Camera traps were deployed in Manas from April 2017 till May 2018. The activity periods of 35 mammals were classified as diurnal (active during daytime), nocturnal (active during night), crepuscular (active in twilight) and cathemeral (evenly active during 24 hours).

Most of the scientific literature shows that moonlight seems to increase predation risk by enhancing the ability of predators to detect prey, thus leading to reduced activity or shifts in prey activity in brighter or moonlit nights. Moonlight also seems to influence positively the activity of those animals which depend on sight mainly, while suppresses those which depend on other senses like smell. In short moonlight influences mainly the prey activity to avoid being killed by predators and enable better food search.

“In our study, the activity during moon phases of top predators like tigers and leopards was cyclic in manner, which means they have a regular peak and valley pattern and hence were not significantly correlated with moon cycle,” Salvador added.

“This study is a comparison of activity patterns across the various phases of the moon cycle,” he said. (The Hindustan Times)

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