Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are Cats Cruel Hunters or Are They Reacting to Defensive Behaviors?

Mouser Buddy (7)
Buddy brings his mouse home.
One night this past summer I happened to be outside trying to photograph hummingbirds when Buddy, who had been sitting quietly at the edge of the field, suddenly pounced on a mouse and brought it back to the house. I guess you'd call Buddy a passive hunter, except Zorro hunts the same way. They both wait in a good mouse habitat (field or woods edge) and listen for mouse sounds. Zorro, though, will lie in a crouching position, so perhaps he is more passive than Buddy. When they hear a mouse and if it is in a good position for catching, they will jump straight in the air, land on the mouse, capture it and bring it where it is safest to eat it.  The mouse head is always carried in the cat’s mouth.
Mouser Buddy (9)
Buddy looks back to make sure nothing is following him and trying to steal his kill.
Mouser Buddy (11)
Once he reaches a place for eating, Buddy will drop his mouse.
Mouser Buddy (12)
Did the mouse bite Buddy in the mouth?
During the entire mouse catching and eating time on this summer evening, Buddy made the same painful looking grimace three different times. I never knew this happened to him while eating a mouse. I am wondering if the mouse, whose head was in Buddy's mouth, was able to bite Buddy defensively, causing Buddy to drop the mouse. Cats always carry the head in their mouth to protect themselves from bites on their face, chest and legs. A mouse carried with its head free would bite any part of the cat it could reach.
Mouser Buddy (22)
Immediately after dropping the mouse (after the grimace),
Buddy would play with the mouse.
After each painful grimace and dropping of the mouse to the ground, Buddy would play with the mouse's body. This is the part of cat behavior that humans frequently call "cruel." I myself have described this playing with mice as cruel. But perhaps it is a reaction to the mouse's defensive behavior in the cat's mouth.
Mouser Buddy (24)
Playing with the mouse.
Mouser Buddy (32)
Buddy finally, after three attempts, settles down and eats the mouse.
Buddy did eat the mouse after the third grimace-dropping-playing sequence with the mouse. My theory that cats play with their prey in reaction to defensive mouse behavior is untested. I need to observe all my cats when they hunt. That, as we know, is difficult. But the summers are blessedly long and I look forward to the observations. You can view the entire mouse kill in my Flickr set "Buddy Catches a Mouse."


  1. Interesting post and great photos. I also think it's cruel, but your theory might be true... So let's wait for your next report! Take care! AnaV.

  2. Didn't like the mouse killing but I must admit that these are excellent shots. Very National Geographic like.


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