Lions, hyenas and mobs (oh my!)

Understanding the factors that facilitate the emergence of cooperation among organisms is central to the study of social evolution. Spotted hyenas Crocuta crocuta frequently cooperate to mob lions Panthera leo, approaching the lions as a tightknit group while vocalizing loudly in an attempt to overwhelm them and drive them away. Whereas cooperative mobbing behavior has been well documented in birds and some mammals, to our knowledge it has never been described during interactions between 2 apex predators. Using a 27-year dataset, we characterize lion–hyena encounters, assess rates of mobbing behavior observed during these interactions, and inquire whether mobbing results in successful acquisition of food. Lions and hyenas interacted most often at fresh kills, especially as prey size and the number of hyenas present increased. Possession of food at the beginning of an interaction positively affected retention of that food by each predator species. The presence of male lions increased the probability of an interspecific interaction but decreased the likelihood of hyenas obtaining or retaining possession of the food. Hyena mobbing rates were highest at fresh kills, but lower when adult male lions were present. The occurrence of mobbing was predicted by an increase in the number of hyenas present. Whether or not mobbing resulted in acquisition of food from lions was predicted by an increase in the number of mobs formed by the hyenas present, suggesting that cooperation among hyenas enhances their fitness.


Lions, hyenas and mobs (oh my!)
Kenna D.S. Lehmann, Tracy M. Montgomery, Sarah M. MacLachlan, Jenna M. Parker, Olivia S. Spagnuolo, Kelsey J. VandeWetering, Patrick S. Bills, Kay E. Holekamp
Current Zoology