Herd - Why Do Animals Herd?

Why Do Animals Herd?

When an association of animals (or, by extension, people) is described as a herd, the implication is that the group tends to act together (for example, all moving in the same direction at a given time), but that this does not occur as a result of planning or co-ordination. Rather, each individual is choosing behaviour that corresponds to that of the majority of other members, possibly through imitation or possibly because all are responding to the same external circumstances. A herd can be contrasted with a co-ordinated group where individuals have distinct roles. Many human groupings, such as army detachments or sports teams, show such co-ordination and differentiation of roles, but so do some animal groupings such as those of eusocial insects, which are co-ordinated through pheromones and other forms of animal communication.

The question of why animals group together is one of the most fundamental in sociobiology and behavioural ecology. As noted above, the term herd is most commonly used of grazing animals such as ungulates, and in these cases it is believed that the strongest selective pressure leading to herding rather than a solitary existence is protection against predators. There is clearly a tradeoff involved, since on the one hand a predator may hesitate to attack a large group of animals, while on the other a large group offers an easily detected target. It is generally believed that the most important protective factor is risk dilution - even if a predator attacks the herd, the risk for any individual that it will be the victim is greatly reduced. In the case of predators, it is often unclear whether the term herd is appropriate, since there may be some degree of co-ordination or role differentiation in group hunting. Predator groups are commonly smaller than grazing groups, since although a pack may be more effective at pulling down prey than a single animal, the prey then has to be shared between all members, so that the weaker animals will often be better off hunting smaller prey on their own.

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