I was describing to my boyfriend the other night how I know Murray can be fancy and use himself properly, because when he gets agitated he looks beautiful. Lots of horses do it — when they get a bit agitated, suddenly they get really springy and fancy and oooh. (I think) it’s a big part of what makes some show horses so good — we love watching them because they LOVE being watched. It doesn’t make any sense, of course. I’m a little bit scared, quick let me use my body in this big, fancy way to make me feel… less scared?
Okay so perhaps it makes a little bit of sense. Horses that “puff up” and get “big” when they are scared or agitated might be trying to make themselves seem bigger to a predator. The same with neck arching. This also might related to how stallions communicate, which seems like a lot of hoity-toity garbage until they go full mustang and beat the shit out of one another. I’ve seen Murray get all stallion-y when he’s angry and look magnificent galloping around on the lunge line, and immediately go “GAH WHY DON’T YOU USE YOURSELF LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME DAMNITTTT”.
Anyway, all that silly analogy made me think of something I learned in a primate socioecology class way back when. There is a behavior that many ungulates perform called “stotting,” “pronking,” or “pronging” and it is solely performed in front of predators (do not question why this was taught in a primate socioecology class). Stotting, as I prefer to call it (though pronking was too good of a title for this blog to give up), is typically characterized by a high jump in the air that leads with the withers and goes beyond a leap. There is much more upward movement than forward movement, and sometimes they kick out behind while doing it. Watch Grants Gazelles stotting here:
When an antelope is stotting a few times you can see all four of its feet leave the ground at the same time, seen in the same video at this cut:
Different taxa do it slightly differently, and the stiff-legged version is not uncommon. Dama gazelles stott thusly:
This is definitely not stotting, though it is cute:
Oh man, I forgot how funny impala stotting looks!
Though this picture does meet many of the stotting criteria, it is sadly also not stotting. It is, however, an incredibly cute picture of Alyssa‘s mare playing!
Anyway the (longwinded) way I got around to thinking about this is that some ethologists hypothesize that stotting is performed to indicate to predators that they are super high quality individuals and therefore not worth hunting. They are so super athletic that they can waste energy on this ridiculous leap that gets them nowhere that obviously they would be able to outrun a cheetah/lion/leopard (or mountain lion, tiger, jaguar, etc., but not a bullet) and therefore should be focused upon! Another theory is that the stotting helps communicate to other herd members that there is a predator around, but honestly, the fact that all your friends are running the fuck away is usually enough to convince any ungulate that there is a predator present. However, with any behavior as ridiculous as jumping in the air with all four legs straightened, I think ridiculous hypotheses are pretty reasonable. The fact that so many taxa still do it suggests some evolutionary functionality in there… somewhere.
I don’t have any pictures of my own to share with you here. I certainly saw stotting when I lived in Kenya but clearly was not quick enough to get a picture of it. The funniest animals, when they stott, are the heavier ones, as they are less graceful and look more like they are exerting considerable effort to little avail.
Sadly, to my knowledge, perissodactyls do not stott. They do, however, do ridiculous fancy prancing, which might as well be the same thing.
Oh please Mr. Lion, don’t eat me!