Protean behavior under barn-owl attack: Voles alternate between freezing and fleeing and spiny mice flee in alternating patterns

Shahaf Edut, David Eilam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When attacking a spiny mouse in an experimental arena, a barn owl launched a few attacks from distant perches, made repetitive short-distance swoops in each attack and remained in the vicinity of the prey while chasing it. The spiny mouse fled in response, and typically oriented to face the owl whenever it stopped. When attacking a vole, the barn owl performed a greater number of attacks from distant perches, and left the vicinity of the prey after a few short-distance chases or capture attempts. Voles responded to these attacks in unspecific combinations of freezing and fleeing, and did not turn to face the owl when they stopped. Four conclusions are drawn from these encounters. First, two strategies characterized these predator-prey interactions; in one, both predator and prey continuously maintained awareness of each other's location; whereas in the other they continuously attempted to avoid the attention of the other. Second, responses of spiny mice and voles were a manifestation of protean behavior, with spiny mice fleeing in an alternating pattern and voles alternating between running and freezing. Third, locomotor response to owl attack comprised behavior that is an augmentation of normal behavior, with voles clinging to the walls and spiny mice running with frequent and irregular changes in direction. Fourth, the different defensive responses accord with the motor capacities and habitat of each rodent species. All in all, these results demonstrate the dynamic and multidimensional nature of predator-prey interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-216
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 6 Dec 2004


  • Aggressive behavior
  • Defensive behavior
  • Freeze and flee
  • Orientation
  • Predation risk
  • Risk assessment
  • Spiny mice
  • Voles


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