Prairie dogs; cute, cuddly, fluffy, friendly, herbivores and totally vicious. Their savagery was studied recently by researches that noticed how they were willing to kill to protect their turf. Ground squirrels who invaded the prairie dogs turf were attacked and even killed. The killings were brutal with jaws ripping into flesh and necks being snapped.
No one expected these herbivores to be so vicious and it came as kind of a shock to those who witnessed the killings. After the prairie dogs murdered they would leave the victims to rot in the sun while they went on to peacefully eat their plants. Occasionally they would stop mid lunch to make sure the squires were dead by picking at their brains and chests. Although vicious vegetarianism is not anything new to anyone who knows anything about hippos or has that know it all vegan friend who plays in a local death metal band.
Being surprised by the prairie dogs nasty behavior is most likely a product of anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is when animals are seen as having emotions and human like traits. This concept likely came more prevalent after all those animated films featuring the cute animals with the celebrity voices, but nature is not so kind. It is killed or be killed whether one likes the taste of flesh or carrots. The animal kingdom has no morals or empathy, it always about survival. The professor in the department of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, John Orrock says aggression has to do with evolution, it is way an animal stays ahead. “From a behavioral ecology perspective, it’s actually that simple, it all translates down to how much does it affect your survival and how many offspring can you leave.”
In the case of the vicious prairie dogs, it boils down to competition. The squirrels are also herbivores. They could potential eat all of the prairie dogs food, threatening their way of life. They were defending themselves. Maybe they did have human traits such as empathy they would compromise and work out of trade, unfortunately they do not and the prairie dogs had to take to violence.
The research even showed that the most violent prairie dogs were mothers with bigger litters, showing that there was reasoning behind the aggression.
A professor of wildlife biology at the University of California-Davis, Tim Caro says this has mostly to do with female’s strong instincts in protecting their young. “Usually aggression occurs between females of the same species. Here it is extended to other species…all species can be aggressive if the resource over which they are fighting is valuable enough.”
While it is a nice fantasy to assume cute and fluffy animals live in a sort of harmonious and simplified version of our own society it just is not the case. Sure it is a lot simpler but not in the way we like to think it is, it a world of simple survival and often times that means bloodshed.