The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 04-04-2006, 07:01 PM
Huerta88 Huerta88 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
A Man Can Chase Down Any Animal . . . Eventually (??)

When I was really young, my father said, "There are many animals that can outrun a man for a short distance. But man's endurance is such that a skilled tracker will eventually catch any animal."

It's so long ago that I don't even know what he was trying to say -- was he lauding man's superior skill and smarts, and saying that he would (if he were a skilled hunter) outsmart the animal? Or, as I took it at the time, was he making some physiological propositiion, viz., that over an infinitely long savanna, and if the tracker does not make any significant errors or frolics and detours, and even assuming the animal did not stupidly double back in his direction, a man's aggregate stamina and endurance were such that he would eventually overtake the [cheetah/gazelle/chipmunk], sprint they never so fast for short bursts?

Anyhow, have any of you ever heard a proposition like this, and is there any version of it that can be proved (or falsified)?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 04-04-2006, 07:07 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,446
You're talking about a completely unequipped human, right? No vehicles or anything?

I doubt that a man would eventually catch an animal actively trying to escape. Many animals are capable of covering far more ground in a day than a human. As long as the animal didn't loop back, as you say, the distance between human and wolf (or horse, or pronghorn, or whatever) would just keep increasing--even considering the prey's need to stop and eat.

And I *really* doubt that the human could catch a mountain goat, not to mention a falcon, albatross, great white shark, or mosquito.
__________________
---
Yes, I have joined the ranks of former moderators. Being a mod was eating my life. Now I'm a member just like you. Except smarter and better looking.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 04-04-2006, 07:30 PM
Blake Blake is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 10,207
There are very few animals that will outdistance a human male in normal condition. Any man in reasonable shape will run at 8 km for several hours on end. In contrast animals like cattle have evolved largely to escape from predators like cats and dogs, where the hunt is over one way or the other within minutes. As such they have very limited endurance ability and canít effectively cool themselves while running since they can't sweat. Because of that a human will run down almost any animal provided they can either track it or keep it in sight. Animals escape humans that run after them by running for cover as fats as possible and hiding.

Horses are able to sweat and have reasonable stamina and will thus give most humans a run for thier money at the very least. Although horses can't run for hours on end the way humans can they can run much faster for 15 minutes or so, and then rest while the human catches up and sprint off again. Even so people can run down horses and American Indians captured horses using exactly that method, running them to exhaustion and then leaping on their necks and choking them down. Not something you'd do for fun, but clearly possible.

Having said that, humans certainly aren't capable of running down every animal. Dogs and wolves will beat us hands down under moderate temperatures. Anything below about 30oC a dog will run for hours just like a human, but they are faster than we are, so you couldn't run down a wolf. At higher temperatures the inability of dogs to sweat comes into play, and they can only run for half an hour or so without overheating so in hot conditions it's certainly possible to run down a dog. The larger kangaroos animals that humans con never run down under any circumstances. They can also travel for hours on end but are far more efficient and faster than any human at any temperature.

But generally what your father said was true, with very few exceptions a skilled tracker (or on treeless plains) will run down almost any animal.

Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Many animals are capable of covering far more ground in a day than a human.
Very few animals are capable of covering more ground in a day than a human. Dogs, horses and kangaroos are amongst the very, very few. Can you name any other species that can cover more ground in a day than a human?
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 04-04-2006, 07:59 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blake
Any man in reasonable shape will run at 8 km for several hours on end.
Assuming you mean 8 km/hr (5 mph), I'll just add that the "reasonable shape" part is critical here. To put that in perspective, running at that pace would produce a 5:12 marathon time. For reference, Bush ran a marathon in 3:44 in 1993 (when he was 47), but he trained for it and he's a pretty serious runner. I doubt that your average recreational runner (someone who runs 3-5 miles, 3 or 4 times per week) could come anywhere near that time, but he or she could probably pull off an ~5 hr marathon if he had to. Add in a few long distance runs to that person's training program, and a 5 hour marathon would be no problem at all. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably "trained" better than that just going about their everyday business.

And for further reference, most people walk naturally at about 3 - 3.5 mph.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 04-04-2006, 08:02 PM
ZeroZero ZeroZero is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Quote:
Can you name any other species that can cover more ground in a day than a human?
A pronghorn can easily outdistance a man. They can approach speeds of 50-55mph and keep it up for great distances. In terms of pure physical ability without any use of brains, animals that can run faster than humans, even if they can't keep it up, can run farther, rest, run farther, rest, and keep ahead.

Just remember as humans run they use energy. Humans would have to stop and look for food in their pursuit of the animal. Grazing animals can eat grass and bushes on their way. So the more the human ran the more food he'd have to eat to keep up the pace he started at.

8km/hr is just under 5mph. A horse can clock up to 40mph. That is 8 times as fast.
So if the horse runs 40mph for 10 minutes he is already 6.6miles away where the human is 8/10 of ONE mile away. So the horse just mearly rests. Then takes off again.

I really doubt Native Americans were using pure physical ablity to catch horses. I would bet anything they used their minds. Setting some sort of trap or catching them into areas where there was no retreat.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 04-04-2006, 08:53 PM
Telemark Telemark is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Hub of the sports world
Posts: 15,203
It's called Cursorial Hunting, and it is/was used by hunters in Africa to track down game and Native Americans to hunt down horses. It seems especially effective in hot dry climates where disapating heat is an issue. Humans seem very good at that.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 04-04-2006, 09:03 PM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Skylab
Posts: 1,954
Here's Wiki on it.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 04-04-2006, 09:07 PM
Gorsnak Gorsnak is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Saskaboom
Posts: 8,021
It seems to me that most animals running away from a person would do so very inefficiently, i.e., sprint away for a bit, then stand and watch, then sprint again, etc. A human wouldn't run anything down by sprinting in 100 yard bursts either. It makes me curious as to what other species could outdistance humans if they had the brains to pace themselves. I strongly suspect horses would be one of them.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 04-04-2006, 09:23 PM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Skylab
Posts: 1,954
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gorsnak
It makes me curious as to what other species could outdistance humans if they had the brains to pace themselves. I strongly suspect horses would be one of them.
Even with the increase in brains, I wouldn't think there would be many. We physically evolved to do this sort of thing, they for the most part didn't. Fit humans (not the galoots most of us are these days) engaging in this activity would be pretty relentless.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 04-04-2006, 09:55 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,446
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blake
Very few animals are capable of covering more ground in a day than a human. Dogs, horses and kangaroos are amongst the very, very few. Can you name any other species that can cover more ground in a day than a human?
Let's set the "ground" rules before I answer that. I presume we're speaking specifically of land mammals, right? No albatrosses or salmon, or your challenge is just too easy.

Secondly, if the human is significantly slower than the animal being pursued, then said human won't be moving at a consistent run, because the animal will soon be out of sight and he'll have to track it. This also means that the human will (for the most part) only be able to move during daylight hours, while the animal being pursued can run all night long (stopping for naps as required).

Finally, remember the condition that the animal is actually trying to escape and cover as much ground as possible.

Okay, given those, let's try a list. As you pointed out, dogs (wolves, etc.) can easily outpace a human. They tracked one coming south out of Canada with a GPS collar that covered an average of 20 miles per day for a full month. That's measured point-to-point, so the wolf actually traveled much farther than that when hunting and going around difficult terrain. Other good candidates would be horses and their kin, pronghorns, and a variety of gazelles.

Now let's start considering terrain. Take a mountain goat in the high Rockies. Humans are so slow crossing snowy/rocky mountain cliffs at altitudes of 12,000+ feet that the goat would hardly need to work at escaping.

Head out into a hot desert. Would a human be able to cover as much ground as a camel? Would a human even be able to survive long enough alone while trying to track said camel?

Settle into a thickly overgrown swamp. See how much ground you can cover in a day trying to track a feral pig or (god forbid) a semi-aquatic animal like a muskrat. By the time you've forced your way through a few hundred yards, it'll be miles away.

Ever try to chase a rabbit through brambles?

Unfortunately, I don't have statistics handy on how much ground various species can cover in a day, so I can't go much farther tonight. That's just what comes up off the top of my head.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:07 PM
Blake Blake is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 10,207
Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroZero
A pronghorn can easily outdistance a man. They can approach speeds of 50-55mph and keep it up for great distances.
Define ďA great distanceĒ, and can you provide a reference that the animals can sustain such speeds for an hour or more at a time? That seems incredible.


Quote:
Just remember as humans run they use energy. Humans would have to stop and look for food in their pursuit of the animal. Grazing animals can eat grass and bushes on their way. So the more the human ran the more food he'd have to eat to keep up the pace he started at.


Pardon my mirth, but you have to have a little understanding of animal physiology to understand why that suggestion is humorous. Quite simply there is no way that an animal like a horse or sheep is going to be able to get enough nutrients out of grass to sustain the sort of energy expended in running distances. Yes, humans will lose weight too of course, but in both cases the entire chase will be done almost entirely on fat reserves. Any contribution by food along eaten the way will be negligible.

Quote:
So if the horse runs 40mph for 10 minutes he is already 6.6miles away where the human is 8/10 of ONE mile away. So the horse just merely rests. Then takes off again.
It doesnít work that way. You canít just keep extrapolating as though there is no inherent limit. 40mph is a full gallop even for a racing thoroughbred. Itís the equivalent of a human sprint.

Human sprinters routinely manage to sustain speeds of 30km/hr. So by your logic they should win marathon races by a wide margin. If the sprinter runs 30km/hr for 1 minute he is already 500m away where the marathon runner is 1.5metres away. So the sprinter merely rests. Then takes off again.

Of course it doesnít work like that in the real world. A horse or human sprinter simply can not sustain an infinite number of sprints. Over a 12 hour period a good horse in peak condition might manage three or four 40mph gallops sustained over 10 minutes if the weather is cool. Or to put it another way it can manage to do that sort of time every 3 hours of so. Yet the human will be catching up every ĺ of an hour.

What you are expecting with you scenario is that a horse manage to run the Kentucky Derby every 45 minute from sunup to sundown. Of course such a scenario is simply not possible. However humans can and do manage to sustain 10km/hr from sunup to sundown.


Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Let's set the "ground" rules before I answer that. I presume we're speaking specifically of land mammals, right? No albatrosses or salmon, or your challenge is just too easy.
Weíre talking about land animals of course, because we are discussing the amount of ground they can cover. But you are free to include cursorial birds or reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and so forth as you wish.

Quote:
Secondly, if the human is significantly slower than the animal being pursued, then said human won't be moving at a consistent run, because the animal will soon be out of sight and he'll have to track it.
Well if you have some evidence regarding how much tracking an animal slows a person down then you can enter it. Until then Iím assuming based on what I know of that tracking will only reduce speed by about 10% at most.

Quote:
Now let's start considering terrain. Take a mountain goat in the high Rockies. Humans are so slow crossing snowy/rocky mountain cliffs at altitudes of 12,000+ feet that the goat would hardly need to work at escaping.
Well if thatís your sole point, that humans canít outrun an animal in terrain where humans canít run at all then of course you are right. Hard to see what it contribute sin terms of addressing the OP.

Quote:
Head out into a hot desert. Would a human be able to cover as much ground as a camel? Would a human even be able to survive long enough alone while trying to track said camel?
Hell yes.

Camelís and humans are both animals of arid and semi-arid tropical environments and are excellently adapted to the heat. The difference is that camels canít sweat to coole themselves to any great degree. If the try to run at all in the heat they will collapse within an hour. Humans on the other hand routinely run for over an hour in temperatures exceeding 40oC. I have done it myself on numerous occasions.

Quote:
Settle into a thickly overgrown swamp. See how much ground you can cover in a day trying to track a feral pig or (god forbid) a semi-aquatic animal like a muskrat.
Once again it seems like your sole point is that we canít run through extremely dense undergrowth as fast as a pig, which is true, but then we canít run through a3í tall tunnel as fast as a rat and we canít run along branches as fast as a squirrel. Itís hard to see what this actually adds in term so f addressing the OP.

It seem like trivial and fatuous observation and worse yet it goes no way at all towards addressing your claim that these animals can actually cover more ground in a day than a human. A rat or pig might be able to sprint faster than a human in those weird situations but I can see no reason to believe they can cover more ground. Pigs are notorious as being solely sprinters with little or no capacity for sustained speed in overgrown swamp or elsewhere.


Quote:
Unfortunately, I don't have statistics handy on how much ground various species can cover in a day, so I can't go much farther tonight. That's just what comes up off the top of my head.
Itís not really anything at all. Some examples of where humans are basically prevented form running at all and some examples that are incorrect, like the idea of camels running for longer in the heat than humans. It seems like only dogs and kangaroos are actually capable of covering more ground than humans except in conditions like branches, thickets, tunnels and other conditions where humans are largely prevented from running at all.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:12 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 25,987
Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Secondly, if the human is significantly slower than the animal being pursued, then said human won't be moving at a consistent run, because the animal will soon be out of sight and he'll have to track it. This also means that the human will (for the most part) only be able to move during daylight hours, while the animal being pursued can run all night long (stopping for naps as required).

Finally, remember the condition that the animal is actually trying to escape and cover as much ground as possible.
Except that's not the way most animals run away. You have to take normal behavior into account. Most animals will run just far enough to feel that they are out of danger. They will not try to "cover as much ground as possible." They will stop, then take off again when the pursuer gets too close. Under these conditions, in open terrain, then animal will always be in sight in daylight (or moonlight after dark). If they started early enough in the day, a human would likely be able to exhaust most animals before nightfall.

[quote]Okay, given those, let's try a list. As you pointed out, dogs (wolves, etc.) can easily outpace a human. They tracked one coming south out of Canada with a GPS collar that covered an average of 20 miles per day for a full month. That's measured point-to-point, so the wolf actually traveled much farther than that when hunting and going around difficult terrain. Other good candidates would be horses and their kin, pronghorns, and a variety of gazelles.

Dogs and wolves OK under certain conditions, as Blake says; they are also cursorial hunters. Horses are known to have successfully been hunted by humans on foot. Probably not pronghorns or gazelles over the long haul.

Quote:
Now let's start considering terrain. Take a mountain goat in the high Rockies. Humans are so slow crossing snowy/rocky mountain cliffs at altitudes of 12,000+ feet that the goat would hardly need to work at escaping.
True enough, but the OP specified the conditions as an endless savanna.

Quote:
Head out into a hot desert. Would a human be able to cover as much ground as a camel? Would a human even be able to survive long enough alone while trying to track said camel?
You may have one there. Although they don't sweat, camels are highly tolerant of heat stress.

Quote:
Settle into a thickly overgrown swamp. See how much ground you can cover in a day trying to track a feral pig or (god forbid) a semi-aquatic animal like a muskrat. By the time you've forced your way through a few hundred yards, it'll be miles away.

Ever try to chase a rabbit through brambles?
Again, the OP specified an "endless savanna." Once you allow the animal to take to cover all bets are off.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:17 PM
Gorsnak Gorsnak is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Saskaboom
Posts: 8,021
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blake
Define ďA great distanceĒ, and can you provide a reference that the animals can sustain such speeds for an hour or more at a time? That seems incredible.
Pronghorns are reknowned for ridiculous speeds over extended periods of time, but I've never seen any actual numbers put on it. I would assume that they can't maintain a sprint (~100kph) for very long, but I believe they will travel at ~70kph for "extended" periods of time. I'm looking around for cites that will put an actual figure on that, because I'm really not sure what "extended" means in this case.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:18 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 25,987
Fixed coding in the middle bit:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Invisible Wombat
Quote:
Okay, given those, let's try a list. As you pointed out, dogs (wolves, etc.) can easily outpace a human. They tracked one coming south out of Canada with a GPS collar that covered an average of 20 miles per day for a full month. That's measured point-to-point, so the wolf actually traveled much farther than that when hunting and going around difficult terrain. Other good candidates would be horses and their kin, pronghorns, and a variety of gazelles.
Dogs and wolves OK under certain conditions, as Blake says; they are also cursorial hunters. Horses are known to have successfully been hunted by humans on foot. Probably not pronghorns or gazelles over the long haul.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Invisible Wombat
Now let's start considering terrain. Take a mountain goat in the high Rockies. Humans are so slow crossing snowy/rocky mountain cliffs at altitudes of 12,000+ feet that the goat would hardly need to work at escaping.
True enough, but the OP specified the conditions as an endless savanna.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:49 PM
Jurph Jurph is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Here's some proof that man can outrun even a motivated horse overland. Granted, the horse was carrying a rider, but the man who won the race did so handily, and the race was "only" 35 kilometers. I don't know exactly how to extrapolate this out; the human was in racing shape but then so was the horse.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:51 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 55,155
But if you just want to say "I told you so" to your dad, bring up Canada geese. Yeah, yeah, he probably wasn't referring to birds, but he did say "animals", and I'd love to see the human who can run down a goose!

Aside: Are Canada geese the champions at long-distance flying, or can an albatross or some other bird best them? I know that swallows are faster, but we all know that swallows are non-migratory , so I doubt they could keep up that speed across continents. And of course, most birds of prey are much faster in a dive, but I'm certain they can't keep that up.
__________________
Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.
--As You Like It, III:ii:328
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:59 PM
garygnu garygnu is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
African swallows are non-miratory.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 04-04-2006, 11:59 PM
Gorsnak Gorsnak is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Saskaboom
Posts: 8,021
Jurph, a rider is a very significant burden for a horse, so I'm not really sure that proves much.


Extensive searching on pronghorns hasn't turned up anything authoritative. Most descriptions suggest top speeds of 90-100kph, sustainable for about 10 minutes, and 50-70kph sustainable for 30-60 minutes. Happily, we don't need any silly statistics to determine whether a person can chase down an antelope. We can just ask the guy who tried it and wrote a book about it!

Quote:
Have you managed to catch an antelope yet?

Not yet. I haven't tried lately. It would take some serious effort of more than just two guys. I'd say if we had four, and spent a couple of months working at it, maybe not every day, but it's been done. I believe in it. I think it's possible. The main problem is not the running; the main problem is knowledge of the terrain and the animal itself.

Primitive hunters did it. I mean, we got a pretty good story with the Seri down there in Mexico, and so many other reports. They're all so similar in the technique that it makes me think that it has been done. And I think also probably a certain amount of dancing has put the animal into some sort of trance. That's usually part of it, from what I've read, and the Seri said that too, that they would mesmerize the animal with a dance. I don't know how many groups actually were runners or ran things down and did stuff like that, because there's only three or four good stories in the records. cite
So it sounds like it can be done, but requires multiple people and I'm guessing ends up relying on the pronghorns looping back giving the hunters the chance to tag-team it. I have no idea what the dancing is supposed to be about.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 04-05-2006, 12:20 AM
lissener lissener is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gorsnak
Jurph, a rider is a very significant burden for a horse, so I'm not really sure that proves much.


Extensive searching on pronghorns hasn't turned up anything authoritative. Most descriptions suggest top speeds of 90-100kph, sustainable for about 10 minutes, and 50-70kph sustainable for 30-60 minutes. Happily, we don't need any silly statistics to determine whether a person can chase down an antelope. We can just ask the guy who tried it and wrote a book about it!


So it sounds like it can be done, but requires multiple people and I'm guessing ends up relying on the pronghorns looping back giving the hunters the chance to tag-team it. I have no idea what the dancing is supposed to be about.
Dang. I gotta check in here more often. If you can track down the NPR segment that this guy recorded in the field, while he was running down the antelope--man, one of my alltime favorite radio experiences.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 04-05-2006, 02:01 AM
Arnold Winkelried Arnold Winkelried is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Irvine, California, USA
Posts: 14,822
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos
Aside: Are Canada geese the champions at long-distance flying, or can an albatross or some other bird best them?
How about the arctic tern?

It migrates from the North Polar region to the South Polar region, over 35,000 km every year, and according to one article I found, spends most of its time in the air.

http://museum.gov.ns.ca/mnh/nature/nsbirds/bns0188.htm

http://library.thinkquest.org/3500/arctic_tern.html
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 04-05-2006, 03:27 AM
mr. jp mr. jp is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Quote:
Blake:
There are very few animals that will outdistance a human male in normal condition.
If we were to make a contest where animals of different species had to reach a goal post in the shortest amount of time, what would be the optimal conditions for humans?

Based on blakes posts it seems to be some long distance (40 km) on a plain field, in hot weather.

Is this the method we used to hunt in prehistory, running the animals tired on the african plains? Or why else are we so good at it?
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 04-05-2006, 12:29 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 25,987
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos
can an albatross or some other bird best them?
It is suspected that some albatrosses may spend literally years in flight (sleeping with half their brains when necessary). Even if they do rest at times, it's certain that they spend a far greater time in the air than any other birds, with the possible exception of some swifts. Albatrosses probably cover many tens of thousands of miles in continuous flight.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 04-05-2006, 01:49 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 16,298
Previous thread. Lots of links, data, arguments.

Yeah, we can run damn near anything into the ground.


I'm not an athlete, just a modern sedentary middle-aged guy, but I could do 30-mile days for several consecutive days, or 50 in a single day if I didn't have to move much the next day.
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 04-05-2006, 02:25 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 55,155
Quote:
It is suspected that some albatrosses may spend literally years in flight (sleeping with half their brains when necessary). Even if they do rest at times, it's certain that they spend a far greater time in the air than any other birds, with the possible exception of some swifts. Albatrosses probably cover many tens of thousands of miles in continuous flight.
Yes, but how does an albatross's cruising speed compare to a goose's? A goose can sustain about 60 MPH while it's flying, though I think it needs to rest every day. But if, for instance, a goose can sustain 60 MPH for 16 hours per day, while an albatross goes 24/7/365 at 30 MPH, then the goose would still be the winner. Note that I have no idea whether those numbers are correct (except for the 60 MPH figure for geese; I'm sure I've read that somewhere); I'm just using them to illustrate what I'm asking.
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 04-05-2006, 02:43 PM
Sal Ammoniac Sal Ammoniac is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Beans, Cod
Posts: 4,454
Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
It is suspected that some albatrosses may spend literally years in flight (sleeping with half their brains when necessary). Even if they do rest at times, it's certain that they spend a far greater time in the air than any other birds, with the possible exception of some swifts. Albatrosses probably cover many tens of thousands of miles in continuous flight.
Apologies for the hijack, but what's the motivation for the albatross to do that? And what do they eat all the while? The in-flight meals must be terrible!
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 04-05-2006, 03:21 PM
AskNott AskNott is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Anderson, IN,USA
Posts: 14,060
In the real life example I heard or read (it may have been the NPR story,) two long-distance runners were able to stay fairly close to a caribou or something, once they separated it from the herd. They chased for a long time, but the prey fooled them by uniting again with a herd of caribou. They came over a rise to see dozens of them. Which one was the one they'd been chasing all day? They had no way of knowing.
__________________
"You know what they say about sleeping dogs; you can't trust 'em." --Oliver Faltz
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 04-05-2006, 03:27 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 25,987
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos
Yes, but how does an albatross's cruising speed compare to a goose's? A goose can sustain about 60 MPH while it's flying, though I think it needs to rest every day. But if, for instance, a goose can sustain 60 MPH for 16 hours per day, while an albatross goes 24/7/365 at 30 MPH, then the goose would still be the winner. Note that I have no idea whether those numbers are correct (except for the 60 MPH figure for geese; I'm sure I've read that somewhere); I'm just using them to illustrate what I'm asking.
I thought by "long distance flying" you meant which could travel the longest distance without stopping, not which could cover a fixed distance in the shortest amount of time.

From here
Geese may be able to fly 60 MPH if they have it cranked up, but 40-50 MPH is more typical. But Canada Geese don't normally fly long distances each day; in fact their northward migration is quite slow. In exceptional instances, they might cover 500 miles before stopping. Snow Geese migrate faster; from the article it sounds as if they might sometimes cover 1000 miles without stopping.

Albatrosses use soaring flight to cruise the prevailing westerlies that circle the Antarctic continent. These latitudes are known among sailors as the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties, from their continuous high winds. Wind speeds of 70 MPH are common and they can reach 150 MPH. So albatrosses may regularly experience much higher wind speeds than geese.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sal Ammoniac
Apologies for the hijack, but what's the motivation for the albatross to do that? And what do they eat all the while? The in-flight meals must be terrible!
It's difficult for them to take off from the water, and in general it's probably safer to stay aloft. There are no obstruction around the Antarctic, and they circle the continent continuously. They feed on squid and fish plucked from the surface.
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 04-05-2006, 04:32 PM
OneCentStamp OneCentStamp is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Posts: 8,123
Not exactly on topic, but a good yardstick...

When I was 16 or so, I did the Amos Alonzo Stagg endurance hike with my Boy Scout troop. It was 50 miles (50.2 to be precise) over mostly flat ground, and you had to complete it in 18 hours or less to get the coffee mug or whatever the hell they handed out.

Our troop of reasonably fit high schoolers, along with a fiftysomething scout master, did it with hours to spare, at a sustained brisk walk with no stops longer than it took to open a pack or trail mix in the dark. My longest stops were 90 seconds or so to pee.

So, starting before dawn and finishing after dark, a human could cover 50 miles in a day without even running. I did.
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 04-05-2006, 04:50 PM
Xema Xema is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos
Yes, but how does an albatross's cruising speed compare to a goose's?
There's a colony of Royal Albatrosses at Taiaroa Head, near Dunedin, New Zealand. At the visitor center there (well worth a visit) there are many displays about albatrosses. According to some tracking they've done, typical albatross flying speeds are 100-110kph.

The information at this visitor center also confirms what Colibri has posted: that large albatrosses spend most of their time in the air and rarely land.
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 04-05-2006, 05:05 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 55,155
Quote:
Albatrosses use soaring flight to cruise the prevailing westerlies that circle the Antarctic continent. These latitudes are known among sailors as the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties, from their continuous high winds. Wind speeds of 70 MPH are common and they can reach 150 MPH. So albatrosses may regularly experience much higher wind speeds than geese.
"He seems to be gaining on us. Do you think he's using the same wind we're using?"

That is to say, a strong wind will benefit all birds equally, if they happen to be in it. So I don't think that it's fair to give a bird credit for wind, in a race. Whichever bird has the highest average sustained airspeed will win.

And if snow geese cover 1000 miles a day at 50 MPH, that's 20 hours of flight time. Spending 5/6 of their time in the air sounds to me like some pretty good endurance. For the goonybirds to beat that, in terms of airspeed, even flying continuously, they'd have to average over 40 MPH. Do they have that kind of airspeed? Granted, the air the frequent is itself moving pretty fast, so they have a lot of ground speed, but I don't think geese on a north-south migration path have that advantage. And even a sloth can move quickly, if it's on a really fast treadmill.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 04-05-2006, 05:09 PM
Anaamika Anaamika is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2001
I own the "Life in the Freezer" with David Attenborough DVD. In it it takes four men to catch a penguin. So I'd have to say not!
Reply With Quote
  #32  
Old 04-05-2006, 06:05 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,446
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blake
Well if you have some evidence regarding how much tracking an animal slows a person down then you can enter it. Until then Iím assuming based on what I know of that tracking will only reduce speed by about 10% at most.
Well, I was working up a response to this, explaining how it would vary based on the terrain, but then I noticed...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
True enough, but the OP specified the conditions as an endless savanna.
Ouch. I missed that line in the OP. I thought we were talking about the real world, where terrain is critically important. That condition invalidates most of my arguments.

In the immortal words of Emily Litella, "Never mind."
Reply With Quote
  #33  
Old 04-05-2006, 06:12 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,446
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blake
Well if you have some evidence regarding how much tracking an animal slows a person down then you can enter it. Until then Iím assuming based on what I know of that tracking will only reduce speed by about 10% at most.
Well, I was working up a response to this, explaining how it would vary based on the terrain, but then I noticed...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
True enough, but the OP specified the conditions as an endless savanna.
Ouch. I missed that line in the OP. I thought we were talking about the real world, where terrain is critically important. That condition invalidates most of my arguments.

In the immortal words of Emily Litella, "Never mind."
Reply With Quote
  #34  
Old 04-05-2006, 06:42 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
SD Curator of Critters
Moderator
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 25,987
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos
"He seems to be gaining on us. Do you think he's using the same wind we're using?"

That is to say, a strong wind will benefit all birds equally, if they happen to be in it. So I don't think that it's fair to give a bird credit for wind, in a race. Whichever bird has the highest average sustained airspeed will win.

And if snow geese cover 1000 miles a day at 50 MPH, that's 20 hours of flight time. Spending 5/6 of their time in the air sounds to me like some pretty good endurance. For the goonybirds to beat that, in terms of airspeed, even flying continuously, they'd have to average over 40 MPH. Do they have that kind of airspeed? Granted, the air the frequent is itself moving pretty fast, so they have a lot of ground speed, but I don't think geese on a north-south migration path have that advantage. And even a sloth can move quickly, if it's on a really fast treadmill.
Geese and albatrosses have completely different flight methods, so it is nearly impossible to compare them. Albatrosses are dynamic soarers, and can hardly fly at all in still air. They need wind to fly. Geese, in contrast, employ flapping flight almost exclusively - I can't say I've ever seen one soar for more than a very short time. I doubt that they would even try to fly in gale force winds - if there was much turbulence, they might not be able to control their flight very well. I don't think a Canada Goose would last very long in the Roaring Forties.

You could never have a fair race between a goose and an albatross. Comparing their performances in each other's environment is sort of like comparing how fast a cheetah would go in the middle of the ocean to how fast a dolphin would go on the African savanna.

The bottom line is that albatrosses in general cover a lot more distance over a given amount of time, which is probably the figure of relevance.
Reply With Quote
  #35  
Old 04-05-2006, 06:44 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Well, I was working up a response to this, explaining how it would vary based on the terrain, but then I noticed...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
True enough, but the OP specified the conditions as an endless savanna.
Ouch. I missed that line in the OP. I thought we were talking about the real world, where terrain is critically important. That condition invalidates most of my arguments.
Actually, the OP did not specify that, but offered that scenario as one option. There's evidence that our genus spent a lot of time in a savanna environment during our evolution, but we lived in lots of other types of environments as well, so I don't know how "real world" that assumption is.
Reply With Quote
  #36  
Old 04-05-2006, 06:48 PM
Blake Blake is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 10,207
Quote:
Originally Posted by mr. jp
If we were to make a contest where animals of different species had to reach a goal post in the shortest amount of time, what would be the optimal conditions for humans? Based on blakes posts it seems to be some long distance (40 km) on a plain field, in hot weather.
That would have been my guess, humans aren't fast but we're dogged and our ability to sweat gives us a massive advantage in the heat. However it depends a bit on what animal we are chasing. Camels for example are good distance runners but they can't sustain a fast pace in the heat, so the best bet their might be extreme temperatures (45oC or higher) and a distance of 5-10km.

Quote:
Is this the method we used to hunt in prehistory, running the animals tired on the african plains? Or why else are we so good at it?
That's one theory, and certainly plenty of people have used cursorial hunting.

The other theory is simply that it's an adaptation to semi-arid environments. Many herbivores of semi arid and arid regions like kangaroos and camels have impressive abilities to cover long distances quickly. That enables them to move between isolated watering points and to chase storm rains. The human ability to travel fast may have evolved for the same reason. By being able to run distances we can camp on a water hole and forage out many miles. Meanwhile competitors like baboons are restricted to just a few miles around standing water because they can't go any further and still make it back to drink in the evenings. That alone would make distance running a major advantage.
Reply With Quote
  #37  
Old 04-05-2006, 07:41 PM
MetroGnome MetroGnome is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by lissener
Dang. I gotta check in here more often. If you can track down the NPR segment that this guy recorded in the field, while he was running down the antelope--man, one of my alltime favorite radio experiences.
Could it be this story from This American Life? Scott Carrier's story starts about 6 and a half minutes into the audio clip.

Just so that this isn't a total hijack, is our ability to master cursorial hunting largely a product of our specific physiology/metabolism, or does our dominance in this field depend much on the animals' short-sighted evasive tactics vs. our focused pursuit?

To put it another way, are cursorial hunters in a physical or behavioral niche? If we could dropped some knowledge on the big cats, can a cheetah jog down her prey and finally get a taste of the fat life?
Reply With Quote
  #38  
Old 04-05-2006, 07:49 PM
Blake Blake is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 10,207
Quote:
Originally Posted by MetroGnome
Just so that this isn't a total hijack, is our ability to master cursorial hunting largely a product of our specific physiology/metabolism, or does our dominance in this field depend much on the animals' short-sighted evasive tactics vs. our focused pursuit?
Some of both, but humans are better adpated to distance running than most animals so provided a human can manage to track an animal they will normally run it down. The animals can't simply keep moving to evade us because we will cover far more ground in a single day.

Quote:
If we could dropped some knowledge on the big cats, can a cheetah jog down her prey and finally get a taste of the fat life?
Nope. The big deal here is heat dispersal. Humans can sweat a lot so we can manage susteined exercise. Cats can't sweat so they are limited to short intense bursts of activity followed by long peridos of cooling down. A cheetah wouldn;t have any advanatge over a buffalo in a distance race, and both would start to overheat within minutes rather than hours.
Reply With Quote
  #39  
Old 04-05-2006, 08:19 PM
Hombre Hombre is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blake
There are very few animals that will outdistance a human male in normal condition. Any man in reasonable shape will run at 8 km for several hours on end. In contrast animals like cattle have evolved largely to escape from predators like cats and dogs, where the hunt is over one way or the other within minutes. As such they have very limited endurance ability and canít effectively cool themselves while running since they can't sweat. Because of that a human will run down almost any animal provided they can either track it or keep it in sight. Animals escape humans that run after them by running for cover as fats as possible and hiding.
Even with the "...provided they can either track it or keep it in sight" bit this is misleading at best.

I took the OP to only suggest a savanna ("viz"). A trained hunter/gatherer famier with the terrain could pull this off with some animals.
But an average male in the American woods would loose a deer instantly. I know, I've tried it a lot. This is the main problem not endurance.

And I'm a good tracker, but this:
Quote:
Well if you have some evidence regarding how much tracking an animal slows a person down then you can enter it. Until then Iím assuming based on what I know of that tracking will only reduce speed by about 10% at most.
is way off... unless you are tracking in snow or mud (and before you ask for a cite, proffer one up on you assumption).
Reply With Quote
  #40  
Old 04-05-2006, 08:21 PM
Hombre Hombre is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 556
Meant...to...preview...
Reply With Quote
  #41  
Old 04-05-2006, 09:02 PM
Xema Xema is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
Geese and albatrosses have completely different flight methods, so it is nearly impossible to compare them. Albatrosses are dynamic soarers, and can hardly fly at all in still air. They need wind to fly. Geese, in contrast, employ flapping flight almost exclusively
It's quite true that an albatross' standard approach to flying is to use dynamic soaring with little to no flapping. But (according to the above-mentioned albatross vsistor center) they do use flapping flight when necessary to commute short (20-50km) distances to fishing areas they use when feeding a chick on the nest. In such flight they average about 100kph.

It has been shown that there's a good correlation between the wingloading of a bird (weight per square foot of wing area) and its efficient flight speed. Since a large albatross has about the highest wingloading of any bird, you'd expect its flight speeds to be high - as they are. (An excellent book that discusses this is The Simple Science of Flight by Henk Tennekes.)
Reply With Quote
  #42  
Old 04-05-2006, 09:54 PM
Xema Xema is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gorsnak
Most descriptions suggest top speeds of 90-100kph, sustainable for about 10 minutes, and 50-70kph sustainable for 30-60 minutes.

Here's a link (PDF) to an excerpt from the book Built for Speed - A Year in the Life of a Pronghorn in which the author mentions a top speed "close to 60 miles per hour" and a speed of 45 mph for "several miles".

He also begins one sentence with "When a pronghorn breaks into an easy, rocking canter (a 30 mph pace that it can keep upindefinitely) ..." If we assume this is a exaggerated and that "indefinitely" means "15 minutes" that means the pronghorn can then rest for at least 45 minutes and still stay well ahead of human pursuit. If the estimate of 30 minutes is valid, the pronghorn has 1.5 to 2 hours to relax before the next jog.
Reply With Quote
  #43  
Old 04-05-2006, 11:45 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,446
Quote:
Originally Posted by John Mace
Actually, the OP did not specify that, but offered that scenario as one option. There's evidence that our genus spent a lot of time in a savanna environment during our evolution, but we lived in lots of other types of environments as well, so I don't know how "real world" that assumption is.
Well, I guess I'm not the only one that missed it. Check the OP again:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Huerta88
It's so long ago that I don't even know what he was trying to say -- was he lauding man's superior skill and smarts, and saying that he would (if he were a skilled hunter) outsmart the animal? Or, as I took it at the time, was he making some physiological propositiion, viz., that over an infinitely long savanna, and if the tracker does not make any significant errors or frolics and detours, and even assuming the animal did not stupidly double back in his direction, a man's aggregate stamina and endurance were such that he would eventually overtake the [cheetah/gazelle/chipmunk], sprint they never so fast for short bursts?
He's offering two alternatives, and we're discussing the physiological one, which takes place on an "infinitely long savanna." I think I've demonstrated that if we ignore that phrase and take terrain into account, it's not true that humans can catch anything through dint of perseverence and long-distance running.
Reply With Quote
  #44  
Old 04-06-2006, 07:08 AM
grimpixie grimpixie is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
The Great Dance: A Hunter's Story is a documentary on the life of a tribe of San (bushmen) hunters which captured just such an event - the two hunters chased an eland (if memory serves) for over four hours in temperatures exceeding 46ļC (120ļF) until it simply stopped running and just stood there and let them kill it. They called it the "chasing hunt" and it was the most remarkable sequence! Afterwards the hunter said that he "actually became the animal" so that he could see where it was going, even though he couldn't see it - which I suppose is his way of saying that he could predict where it would run based on terrain, etc and take shortcuts.

In this case the terrain was not endless savanaha, but rugged semi-desert in the Kalahari - so rough that the Landrovers on which the cameras were mounted had a real job on thier hands to keep up with hunter and prey.

Grim
Reply With Quote
  #45  
Old 04-06-2006, 08:14 AM
astorian astorian is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroZero
A pronghorn can easily outdistance a man. They can approach speeds of 50-55mph and keep it up for great distances. In terms of pure physical ability without any use of brains, animals that can run faster than humans, even if they can't keep it up, can run farther, rest, run farther, rest, and keep ahead.
The prongorn and its many relatives ARE very, very fast for short distances, but they CAN'T keep it up for very long.

Of course, neither can most of their predators. A cheetah can't run at top speed for very long either, so he'll either catch his antelope in under a minute or he won't catch the antelope at all.

And a cheetah's strategy is, in large measure, based on wearing out and taking down an exhausted antelope. Running 50 mph is exhausting, and no ruminant can do it for very long. The cheetah hopes to have just a BIT more endurance than his prey.

The ability to run 50 mph for a minute is very useful against some predators, even MOST predators. But not against one who's determined to keep up the chase long after the antelope thinks the chase is supposed to be over.
Reply With Quote
  #46  
Old 04-06-2006, 08:24 AM
August West August West is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Farmington, WI
Posts: 3,604
I just got the May issue of Discover magazine yesterday and there was an article about this very subject, basically agreeing with Blake's comments in this thread. I'll dig it up when I get home tonight and post the relevant excerpts.
Reply With Quote
  #47  
Old 04-06-2006, 08:31 AM
Balduran Balduran is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian
And a cheetah's strategy is, in large measure, based on wearing out and taking down an exhausted antelope. Running 50 mph is exhausting, and no ruminant can do it for very long. The cheetah hopes to have just a BIT more endurance than his prey.
I saw something like this in a nature show. The exhausted cheeta just lay next to the prey they had caught after a minute or two of chasing. Then, a couple of wild dogs just sauntered up and stole the carcass. The cheeta was too tired to try and keep it, let alone even move.
Reply With Quote
  #48  
Old 04-06-2006, 11:06 AM
John Mace John Mace is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian
And a cheetah's strategy is, in large measure, based on wearing out and taking down an exhausted antelope. Running 50 mph is exhausting, and no ruminant can do it for very long. The cheetah hopes to have just a BIT more endurance than his prey.

The ability to run 50 mph for a minute is very useful against some predators, even MOST predators. But not against one who's determined to keep up the chase long after the antelope thinks the chase is supposed to be over.
I think you're using the term "endurance" differently than most people do. No one talks about endurance running when the time scale is 1 minute. That's a full out sprint. Cheetahs don't wear out their prey, but capture them on the run, relying on speed and maneuverability (that's what the tail is for) to catch them.
Reply With Quote
  #49  
Old 04-06-2006, 12:01 PM
Xema Xema is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian
The prongorn and its many relatives ARE very, very fast for short distances, but they CAN'T keep it up for very long.
Note that pronghorns don't have relatives. They are colloquially called "antelopes" because of superficial similarities with that group of animals, but they are in fact not much alike.

Note further that the contention that pronghorns can't keep running for very long directly conflicts with the book I quoted above.
Reply With Quote
  #50  
Old 04-06-2006, 01:53 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xema
Note that pronghorns don't have relatives. They are colloquially called "antelopes" because of superficial similarities with that group of animals, but they are in fact not much alike.

Note further that the contention that pronghorns can't keep running for very long directly conflicts with the book I quoted above.
Your post got me curioins, and you seem to be correct on both accounts. Very interesting-- I never knew this about pronghorns.

Quote:
The pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae, and the fastest land animal in North America running at speeds of 54 mph (90 km/h). The pronghorn is also known as the pronghorn antelope, but is not a true antelope...

<snip>

The pronghorn is one of the fastest land animals, being second only to the cheetah. It can sustain high speeds longer than cheetahs, however. The top recorded speed was 61 mph (98 km/h).
I wonder how good it is at sustaining a nice, moderate pace over long distances, though.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:24 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.