A video posted on the US Fish & Wildlife Service Facebook page is a great example of a super classic canine hunting method.
The short clip, directed by J. Giles, shows a coyote “mouse” along a road in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast, but you might see something virtually identical watching a jackal suffocate rats in an African scrub or an arctic fox after lemmings on the snowy tundra.
The roads as well as the hiking trails, hunting trails and other traffic routes provide good hunting lanes for coyotes, foxes and other carnivores: the paved or open bed hides the hunter’s footsteps against piercing-eared rodents, which tend to be attracted to the thick, fringing ground cover.
In the clip, you can see the coyote tilting its head this way and the other with pricked ears, trying to focus on the little rustles of its prey. Captive red fox research showed the near-precise precision with which they can locate such sounds.
The coyote’s high leap is characteristic of canids attempting to catch burrowing rodents: you’ll see foxes, jackals, and even wolves. (Adult gray wolves sometimes “mice” in a casual manner, probably because a mouse or vole is just a piece for a carnivore of their size and not worth spending a lot of time and effort on it. (energy. Wolf puppies, however, often pounce on rodents around their hangout sites.) The dive-bombing approach helps surprise fast-moving prey and also gives the mouse canine the opportunity to redirect landing in the air to cut a rodent’s run.
Here is a red fox smiling in a mowed field:
Grasshoppers and other insects are good training targets for kits and puppies honing their skills in acoustic triangulation and high angle jumping.
The “mouse pounce” is most impressive when performed in deep snow. Foxes and coyotes sneak into a rodent that glides under the snowpack, jump high, then dip their snout and foreleg first to pierce the crust and pin their subniveen prey – or, if the first hit misses, maybe trap it in a collapsed snow tunnel.
Foxes – the most feline canines – are perhaps the champions of the pack. Biologist J. David Henry measured 25-foot (7.6-meter) red fox jumps along the downhill slopes of trails – a common practice among them, likely because gravity helps extend their aerial cover.
A Czech Republic Study 2011 who observed hundreds of hunts by 84 red foxes suggested that canids preferentially align their mouse hops along a northeast axis. The researchers proposed that this directional dedication, which corresponded to significantly greater hunting success, could mean that a mouse fox is somehow referring to the Earth’s magnetic field: potentially using it, as Ed Yong summary in a National Geographic blog, “as a ‘range finder’, to estimate the distance to its prey and make a more precise leap.”
(Red foxes use different strategies when preying on tree squirrels and songbirds: approach up close, then perform a forward flight and horizontal lunge to try and grab their prey before it reaches the safety of a tree trunk or take off.)
The routine of the bowed head, pricked ears, and high-leaping mouse may define canine behavior, but there is a feline that performs an equally impressive choreography on the hunt. The serval supports its oversized, ultra-sharp ears with an extravagant spring: a superb combination for catching mice, rats and other small critters in tall grass. The jump of a serval can be three meters (ten feet) from the ground. Like a fox or a coyote, the cat pins its victim with its front paws before delivering the deadly bite:
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Ethan Shaw is a naturalist and freelance writer originally from Wisconsin and based in Oregon. He is fascinated by natural history from all sides, with a particular interest in landscape ecology, historical ecology, biogeography and wilderness. Follow it @CutoffMountain. SEE more of this CONTRIBUTOR