BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild News -

In the­ory, an­i­mals might re­spond to in­tense com­pe­ti­tion for food in ei­ther of two op­pos­ing ways. First, they could con­cen­trate on be­com­ing re­ally good at find­ing cer­tain foods, while ig­nor­ing oth­ers com­pletely. Al­ter­na­tively, they could be­come less fussy and wolf down any­thing that might be vaguely ed­i­ble.

But what do wild an­i­mals ac­tu­ally do? Among bands of banded mongoose, at least, it seems they spe­cialise.

“So­cial an­i­mals can gain many ben­e­fits from group liv­ing, but they also suf­fer from com­pe­ti­tion over shared food re­sources,” says Michael Cant of the Univer­sity of Exeter.

Each of a mongoose’s favourite foods – mil­li­pedes, ants, ter­mites, bee­tles, frogs, mice and rep­tiles – leaves a dis­tinc­tive chem­i­cal sig­na­ture in the preda­tors’ tis­sues. By pluck­ing whiskers and analysing them, Cant’s team showed that as group-size (and hence, com­pe­ti­tion) in­creases, di­ets be­come nar­rower, with group mem­bers vary­ing as to what they spe­cialise in.

“The study helps to ex­plain why an­i­mals vary so much in their for­ag­ing be­hav­iour, even when they live in the same place and have ac­cess to the same food,” says Cant.

A frog is the food of choice for this banded mongoose.

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