Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wolves May Not Need to be Smart to Hunt in Packs

Wolves have been observed working together to ambush a prey animal, leading researchers to consider whether they are displaying foresight, planning, and other signs of impressive smarts. But new work suggests that as long as each wolf obeys a couple simple rules, the seemingly complex behavior emerges naturally, without any need for higher intelligence.

Using a computer model, researchers had each virtual “wolf” follow two rules: (1) move towards the prey until a certain distance is reached, and (2) when other wolves are close to the prey, move away from them. These rules cause the pack members to behave in a way that resembles real wolves, circling up around the animal, and when the prey tries to make a break for it, one wolf sometimes circles around and sets up an ambush, no communication required.

Just because certain aspects of pack hunting could be  emergent—arising from the interplay of certain basic rules—rather than the fruits of intelligence doesn’t mean that they necessarily are, nor does it mean that wolves are dumb. But it does suggest that pack hunting isn’t necessarily the reason that wolves form packs, which opens up space for evolutionary biologists to jump and discuss why, if not for hunting, wolves live the way they do.

[via New Scientist]
Image courtesy of Doug Smith / US Park Service