Why Do Animals Fight?


If you have ever watched animals in the wild or if you have pets then you will probably have seen quarrels, fights, and threats between the same species. 

Animals in the wild fight for territory, mates, food, water, and nesting sites. Fighting is generally as a last resort and other techniques are used to avoid this.

If you want to know more about why animals fight then there is great information below.

At some stage in their lives, all mammals will show aggression to another animal.  Aggression is an important part of an animal’s survival strategy.  There are often resources that other members of the species will be after, such as getting food, water, mates, and nesting sites.  Therefore, aggression usually occurs between members of the same species.

Avoiding Fights

Although aggression does occur, animals of the same species do try to stop this before it has even started.  Territorial marking, such as scent marking is used to keep other members of the same species out of a specific area and allows mammals to protect the resources in their territory.

The risk of fighting is reduced using signals between animals before a fight.  Male cats when encountering another tomcat will often stand with its tail up and its legs straight.  They scream and howl at each other before either fighting or one backing down. 

Signs Of Aggression

Rats are another mammal that will show different signs of aggression before fighting.  Brown rats when meeting rats from another group will make themselves look bigger.  Their hair stands on end and their backs arch.  They approach each other, gnashing their teeth before standing on their back legs. 

If one doesn’t give way to the other, then they will start to box until one falls over.  Although their teeth will keep gnashing, they remain motionless with one on top of the other.  If the one on the ground does not give up, then the biting and wrestling happen.  Fights normally last no longer a minute, although one normally gives up before it gets too far. 

Animals will use different techniques to show their willingness to fight.  Some, such as the rats mentioned above will make themselves look larger by rearing up, extending the hair on their back, and provide a side view.

Others such as foxes will bare their teeth, showing their willingness to bite.  Deer and other hoofed animals will paw the ground, much like a bull would.  Others use noise including screaming, hissing, and howling to show their aggressiveness.  Using these techniques allows the animals to assess each other.

Mammals do not want to use their limited energy in fighting and disputes, so aggression is limited so that animals that live together can do so without problems. 

This is especially true in animals that are social and form groups.  Fighting is limited and biting and wrestling is generally avoided as it can be dangerous to both animals involved.  By using their teeth to bite the other’s body, the neck is put at risk. 

Agonistic Behavior

An animal when fighting does have a regard for their own safety and so outright aggression is rarely seen.  Animals use agonistic behavior which includes defensive and aggressive behavior.  This can be seen in a few different ways in different animals.

Cats use agonistic behavior when they arch their backs.  Although it looks like the hind legs are moving forward, it is the front legs that are moving backward, moving the front away from any threat. 

Agonistic behavior can also be seen by the head-bobbing of animals when sizing each other up.  By moving their heads forward and backward they are retreating their heads away from danger while also moving it forward to attack.

Protecting Their Young

It is well known that a grizzly bear who has cubs nearby can be very aggressive and this is the same for most animals. Pregnant animals or ones who have just given birth can be especially aggressive and will protect their young to the best of their abilities. 

Even animals that are not known to be aggressive such as weasels can be especially dangerous when young are present.  It is not only the females that can be particularly aggressive at this time, but males can also be aggressive to defend their young.

Animals that are defending their own territories will almost always win against an animal from the same species.  This is because they have more to lose and will fight harder.  Their territory includes their source of food and water along with their den or nest.  A lack of food and water can also make animals fight.

Social Animals

In pack or group animals, the effects of where the animal is in the social hierarchy can be determined by fighting.  This gives the animal priority when it comes to food, water, and mates. 

The rest of the group will show that they accept the dominance of the winner by appeasing or submission to the leader.  Wolves and foxes will often show this by crouching close to the ground with their tails between their legs, sometimes rolling on their backs. 

These gestures are not only used after a fight but can also be one of the techniques to avoid a fight when meeting another animal.  By showing submission to another animal, including grooming or crouching, the submissive animal can avoid a fight even in apnother territory.

Aggression is used to survive in the wild, and is a behavior that seems to be both instinctive and learned from experience. 

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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