The fact that vegetarian prairie dogs are vicious and ruthless murderers in reality comes as somewhat of a surprise.
Only man is his own worst enemy. From grand theft to brutal terrorism, it is us humans that top the list of savagery in the animal kingdom. However, recent evidence points out several other species that kill on a routine basis.
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Finishing off others without any reason seems to be something at which other creatures than man are specialists as well. To stop the competition that is a part of the survival of the fittest, many species that are normally plant eaters may turn into animal killers.
“In my 43 years of research, this is perhaps the most provocative, puzzling, and far-reaching discovery I’ve ever made,” says study co-author John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center of Environmental Sciences. “The results are just staggering.”
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Herbivorous white-tailed prairie dogs kill Wyoming ground squirrels as a matter of course.
The grisly bodies of these squirrels are left behind and they have not been killed for hunting purposes. Rather, cruel sadism and vicious animosity seems to play a part in this blood sport.
The behavioral repertoire can be summed up in four words: Catch, Shake, Kill, Abandon. It is a story of gore and grim realism. The researchers were just looking to find out more about the prairie dog. What they discovered shook them to the core. This seemingly harmless species packed a mean wallop.
“For four months every year, we live like prairie dogs,” says Hoogland, a National Geographic grantee. “We get to the colony early in the morning before the prairie dogs wake up, we sit in towers all day watching what they do, and we stay until the last prairie dog submerges, just around sunset.”
The meaningless killing of ground squirrels was quite a shocker. Over 47 prairie dogs were identified. 36 of them were females and 11 were males. 30% of the females killed once in a lifetime whereas 19 of them were serial killers of the worst kind.
The female killers had a healthier status and better fitness levels than other less dominant and aggressive females. The killings served a purpose despite the obvious senselessness seen on the surface. They were probably a primitive method of reducing competition from ground squirrels.
Since the ground squirrels shared some of the same territory with prairie dogs, they were giving them a tough time. Especially as regards food, they were a nuisance. So they had to be gotten rid of.
What better way then doing away with them in a shortcut manner. The evolution of ground squirrels naturally favors the females as serial killers. This corroborates the saying that the female of the species is more dangerous than the male.
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Many of the female prairie dogs would kill the squirrels and then walk off to forage for food and nurture their babies as if nothing had happened. There were no signs of squirrel meat having been consumed by the prairie dogs.