3 Characteristics of the hunters

3.2 Other specialisations found in hunters


Claws are important for grabbing prey. They must be kept sharp and trees (or chair legs, as domestic cat owners can confirm) are used as scratching posts. In all cats other than the cheetah, the claws can be retracted into a sheath within the footpad, preventing rapid wear.


Fur is important in thermoregulation, but a conspicuous coat may proclaim sexual dominance or warn off competitors. It's similarly important for predators to remain unseen for as long as possible. The most familiar type of camouflage is the colour of the hunter merging into the background environment colour – think about stoat in winter (ermine), polar bears against the ice of the Arctic and lions against the baked soil and dried grass of Africa. But equally important is the patterned fur of carnivores such as tigers and leopards. This cryptic coloration disrupts the body outline, making the stalking predator less visible to its prey. In some settings, such as zoos and in snow (the Siberian tiger in the TV programme and on the cover of LoM), tigers may stand out, but field workers reported how cryptic these animals often are in many wild habitats. The tiger's camouflage is effective in long grass and dappled sunlight; bear in mind that the majority of prey animals see the tiger only with black and white vision.


Being an effective predator requires efficient sense organs. Prey often has to be located from a considerable distance and good spatial awareness comes into play during the moments of capture. The precise mix of sensory inputs used varies a good deal, just as it does in other animal groups; many rely on good eyesight for hunting; for others, smell and/or hearing are especially important. And you'll know from the TV programme (for example, in what was said about the importance of smell in brown hyenas) and from LoM pp. 143–144, these same sensory capacities are important in contexts far removed from hunting – in this instance, in maintaining group cohesion. The following specific examples show just how important such senses are in diverse aspects of the lives of different carnivores.