In mammals, aggressive behavior often appears far more dangerous than it is. Aggression, as opposed to predatory behavior, is used to protect territory, food, and homes and to find a mate.
Animals use aggressive behavior to gain or retain what they need to survive or reproduce. Aggression is instinctive and learned through experience within and outside the social group. It is necessary for an animal’s survival.
Please read on if you want to know more about why animals are aggressive in the wild.
What is Aggression?
When used scientifically to denote a specific type of animal behavior, aggression has a precise meaning. People who keep pets or observe animals in the wild may recognize threats, quarrels, and fights between the same species as aggression.
Aggression is not the same as predatory behavior. Predatory behavior is used to get food, but aggression can be used in more circumstances. Cats are an excellent example to see the difference in these behaviors. If the cat were stalking a mouse, it would make no sound as it approaches its prey with its body close to the ground.
However, if a male tomcat confronted another cat, its behavior would be different, standing with stiff legs and tail, screaming and howling.
The outcomes differ as well; a successful hunt concludes with prey being caught, killed, and eaten, but aggressive encounters dont usually result in death.
Aggression is Important to Survive
All mammals exhibit aggression, which is an essential survival skill. Aggression occurs in defense of food, water, resting and nesting sites, and finding and protecting mates. Because animals competing for these resources are often members of the same species, aggression is most likely to occur between them.
Animals benefit from resolving their dispute as quickly as possible, saving their limited energy for other important activities. Aggression must also be limited to allow those who live together to do so in relative peace, particularly during mating season and in species that form social groups.
In many cases, the threat is already known before the animals ever meet. Territorial marking allows mammals to protect resources within one area while reducing the risk of fighting. The marking can be done using scat or urine, usually placed on fences, rocks, and paths.
Why Aggression is Limited
Most mammals do not want to die or be seriously injured while fighting, so one way to reduce the risk of actual fighting is to use signals instead of physical combat. These increase as the interaction occurs, so there is a progression from a mild threat to physical fighting, with opportunities for either animal to escape or step down at each level.
When brown rats from different groups meet, they try to avoid combat. First, you will see their backs arch and their hair standing up. They approach each other, showing the sides of their bodies and gnashing their teeth.
If the other does not back down, they then stand on their hind legs and begin to box with their noses touching. If one falls backward, the other lies on top and remains motionless except for more teeth gnashing. If one doesn’t back down, then the biting and wrestling begin. This final stage is frequently missed because one rat gives up and is allowed to leave. Fights rarely last more than a minute but can be much shorter if one backs down.
Mammals have numerous ways of displaying their size, strength, weapons, and willingness to fight. Foxes may show their teeth and snarl, curling the lips to expose the full length of their teeth. If provoked further, it will snap its jaws and gnash its teeth, warning that it may bite.
Many animals draw attention to and enhance their size by standing upright, standing their hair on their backs, and presenting a side view. Hoofed animals paw the ground, indicating a desire to move forward.
Squirrels will chase each other when aggressive. Sound is also essential for animals with poor vision, such as shrews, which scream at each other when they first meet. Weasels hiss while badgers and cats spit. These behaviors allow the animals to assess one another before doing any damage.
Fighting, like the various stages of threat, is usually limited. Boxing on the hind legs is typical in the early stages of mammals such as hares. Biting and wrestling are more severe and dangerous because the teeth can bite vulnerable parts of the other animal’s body, including the neck and sense organs, putting both animals at risk.
Because opposing animals must consider their safety, outright aggression is uncommon, and elements of attacking and defensive are mixed. This is referred to as agonistic behavior and is most visible in the animal’s facial expressions and postures.
Moving the head in a bobbing motion represents both a forward attacking movement and a backward retreating movement. Agonistic behavior also explains why some animals arch their backs when facing larger opponents. The hind legs seem to be moving forward, while the more vulnerable front part of the body appears to be retreating, causing the body to bend in the middle and appear larger.
The animal’s state determines the degree of aggression. Pregnant females or those nursing are incredibly aggressive, and usually, subordinate animals may become dominant at this time. Males are also aggressive in defense of their young.
Hunger and thirst cause aggression, which can quickly escalate into fighting. This explains why animals almost always successfully defend their territories against stronger competitors. The owner is more familiar with the sources of food and water in the territory, so that they will try harder.
Animals usually establish a hierarchy in which one dominant animal has the first choice of food, resting places, water, and mates, while the rest must wait their turn. As a result, the strongest are more likely to mate and reproduce, and thus the fittest survive.
Threats and fights establish the hierarchy within a pack or group, and by showing submission or appeasement, the rest of the group indicates that they accept the winner’s superiority. This sign of acceptance involves postures that are the opposite of aggressive.
Many mammals, including dogs and foxes, crouch close to the ground with their tails between their legs. They can be seen rolling on their backs to show submission. Fallow and red deer lie down with their necks outstretched.
Other gestures include grooming the dominant animal or adopting postures usually associated with receptive females, juveniles, and infants. When solitary animals meet, they also use appeasement gestures.