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Herding of Animals – Effects and Advantages

Sep 9, 2022
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Key Concepts

  • Flock
  • Herd
  • Dilution effect
  • Cognitive Vigilance
  • Foraging
  • Antipredatory behavior

Introduction 

Herding is the process of gathering individual animals into a group (herd), keeping the group together, and transporting the group from one location to another. 

Herding can refer to either the natural process of animals producing herds or human intervention in the formation of herds for a specific purpose (rearing cattle). 

Benefits of animals in groups:  

  • Many animals prefer to be in the company of others. Gathering into groups with other members of the same species has various advantages, including protection from predators, access to mates, and assistance in locating food. 
  • It can be employed to raise an individual’s effective vigilance, to confound or scare a predator, and to provide cover when none exists. 
  • Safety of an individual not easily preyed upon by predators and limiting their numbers. 
A herd of elephants

Explanation

The following includes some of the most significant effects of herding. 

Dilution Effect

This refers to the concept that the risk of being preyed upon by a predator is lower inside a larger group because the predator must choose which individual to attack.  

parallel

Although so-called selfish herding influences the diluting effect (each animal may try to hide behind a less fortunate herd-mate), it is mostly a direct consequence of group size rather than herd position. 

Predators find it more difficult to focus on specific individuals when in groups, such as shoals of fish, synchronize their movements.  

Predators, on the other hand, favor weaker, slower, or peripheral animals, therefore certain positions within the group are better than others. 

Selfish herding
A school of fish

Collective Vigilance

When animals are at risk of predation while feeding or resting, they must be vigilant and keep an eye out for predators. 

According to a study involving a flock of geese, the benefits of lesser vigilance were limited to those in central positions, while the flock’s potentially more vulnerable individuals near the periphery have a greater need to stay alert. 

parallel

Individuals take turns guarding while the rest of the group engages in other activities.  

As a result, social relationships and trust within these groupings must be significantly stronger than in previous circumstances. 

A herd of Zebra drinking water
Meerkats guarding their group

Group-living predators, such as wolves and wild dogs, can catch large prey when hunting together, which they cannot do when hunting alone. 

Foraging

Working together boosts foraging efficiency, which means that when animals forage cooperatively, each individual’s net energy gain is improved.  

Foraging

For example, a group of Spinner dolphins can push fish into a tight constricted region, making prey capture extremely easy because the latter has no way to run. 

 Dolphins cooperatively encircling a school of fish and trapping them against the surface.

The ability to transmit the location and type of food to other group members may increase the likelihood that each individual will find profitable food sources, a mechanism that has been observed in bees and various species of birds.  

The honeybee dance, commonly known as the waggle dance, is a method of communication used by worker honeybees to communicate with other members of the colony. 

Waggle dance of honeybee

Diseases and Parasites

Infectious illnesses and parasites transmit considerably more easily between animals in groups than between solitary animals because they stay close together and contact regularly. 

However, some animals have discovered counter measures such as propolis (a sap-based antimicrobial ingredient) in beehives or grooming (refers to the process of cleaning animals so that their coats are free of dust, dirt, manure, and sweat). 

Propolis
Grooming in monkeys

Energetic Advantages

Keeping groups together typically has energetic benefits.  

Birds flying in a flock exploit aerodynamic effects, such as arranging themselves in a V shape to lower their energy consumption. When fish swim in set formations, they produce a similar effect. 

When the weather is harsh and cold, another advantage of group life is that animals may better regulate their temperature by remaining close together because their overall surface to the volume ratio is reduced. 

Aerodynamic effects of birds
School of fishing setting a pattern of swimming

Antipredatory Behavior

A group of predators mobbing each other can significantly reduce the risk of predation. 

Individual ravens are unable to aggressively defend themselves against eagles and baboons mobbing lions, however, flocks of ravens can. 

Antipredator behavior in ravens

Mating

Animals that live in groups are more likely to find mates than those who live alone, and they can also compare potential mates to improve the genetic quality of their progeny. 

Domestic Herds

Domestic animal herds are gathered by humans to make rearing and controlling them easier. 

Herds are useful to find mates
Domestic herds

Summary

  • A flock is a group of animals that have gathered together, such as birds or sheep.
  • The term “herd” is used to describe a group of mammals, particularly grazing ungulates
    that exhibit this behavior.
  • Herding is the process of gathering individual animals into a group (herd), keeping the
    group together, and transporting the group from one location to another.
  • Dilution effect: This refers to the concept that the risk of being preyed upon by a predator
    is lower inside a larger group because the predator must choose which individual to
    attack.
  • Collective vigilance: When animals are at risk of predation while feeding or resting, they
    must be vigilant and keep an eye out for predators.
  • Foraging: Group-living predators, such as wolves and wild dogs, can catch large prey
    when hunting together, which they cannot do when hunting alone.
  • Infectious illnesses and parasites transmit considerably more easily between animals in
    groups than between solitary animals because they stay close together and contact
    regularly.
  • Energetic advantages: Keeping groups together typically has energetic benefits.
  • Birds flying in a flock exploit aerodynamic effects, such as arranging themselves in a V
    shape to lower their energy consumption.
  • Anti-predatory behavior: The combined force of a group of mobbing predators can
    dramatically lower the risk of predation.
  • Mating: Animals that live in groups are more likely to find mates than those who live
    alone
  • Domestic herds: Domestic animal herds are gathered by humans to make rearing and
    controlling easier.

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