Kill Frequencies in Terrestrial Mammalian Carnivores: Species Differences and Implications for Feeding Regimes
How often predators kill prey in the wild arguably has relevance for feeding regimes in captivity. An animal that is adapted to hunting and killing multiple times on a daily basis may become prone to obesity and reduced activity when fed high-energy diets once per day. In domestic cats, increasing feeding frequency is one (of several) strategies to manage obesity, leading to increased satiety signals as well as activity in an experimental setup.2,3 An animal that is adapted to killing only every few days and gorge-feeding may never experience the gastric distension typically associated with satiety when fed on a daily basis, which has been suggested as a possible reason underlying stereotypic behavior.4 While the latter hypothesis has not been tested, a desired weight reduction was achieved when shifting lions from a daily feeding routing to a gorge-and-fast feeding routine.1
Data on actually observed kill and feeding frequencies in free-ranging wild carnivores are scarce. Using published literature, we collected data on average prey size, hunting pack size, energetic requirements, prey energy content and gut capacity, and calculated the required kill frequencies for a large range of terrestrial carnivore mammalian species (from 135-g Mustela nivalis to 388-kg Ursus maritimus). For species whose prey exceeded their gut capacity (i.e., who could not ingest the whole prey, ‘large-prey feeders’), kill frequencies declined with increasing predator mass; i.e., larger carnivores had lower kill frequencies. In the smallest of these ‘large-prey feeders,’ some mustelid species, kill frequencies were between 0.5–2 times per day. For species whose prey did not exceed their gut capacity (‘small-prey feeders’), there was no change in kill frequency with body mass. These species were mostly but not exclusively smaller carnivores, and kill frequency averaged at 5 per day.
The data suggest no simple body-size-related pattern of kill frequency across terrestrial carnivores, but emphasize the relevance of species-specific concepts.
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