Monday, November 09, 2009

Study: Middle-age wolves retire from the hunt - comments

updated 3:32 p.m. ET, Tues., Nov . 3, 2009

It takes wolves a year or two to learn how to hunt, but their ferociousness doesn't last long.

According to a new study, most wolves lose their prowess by age 3, just halfway through their lives. After that, they have to rely on younger members of the pack to catch the majority of their meals.

The discovery adds to growing evidence that aging affects animals much like it affects people. The findings might also change the way scientists think about the health of both wolf packs and the elk they prey on.


The study revealed that wolves reach their hunting peak at age 2 or 3, even though the animals live for an average of five or six years and sometimes reach age 10 or even older.

Packs with a larger proportion of older wolves killed fewer elk than did more youthful packs. Scientists have long assumed that one adult wolf would be as dangerous as the next.

"The take-home message is that an adult wolf is only maximally lethal for about 25 percent of its adult life span," said MacNulty, whose study appeared in the journal Ecology Letters. "Carnivores simply aren't as ferocious as we think they are."


It would be interesting to know if there would be similar findings for the ability of elk to defend against wolves.

11/9/2009 Since wolves hunt in packs, it seems likely that the younger and older wolves do contribute, even if not maximally. Also, I wonder if older wolves might partially offset declining physical strength with improved tactics derived from experience.

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