Animal to-the-death fights occurring in nature where the outcome isn't a given?

Usually, when two animals fight to the death spontaneously without human interference, it’s because one is the predator and the other the prey. The former has all his own way, and once it comes to an actual fight the latter tends to be - well, lunch. A lion fighting a gazelle or whatever it is those crazy lions munch on these days never, or at least statistically insignificantly often, loses if it does get its claws and teeth into the gazelle.

What are the exceptions to this? I know that sperm whales fight giant squids and that those fights can go both ways, although I believe the whale is at a statistical advantage. While reading the Wikipedia article on swordfish I learned that they are sometimes attacked by shortfin mako sharks, and sometimes win.

So, what we’re talking about there is:
[ul][li]Two animals[/li][li]of different species[/li][li]who fight[/li][li]fairly frequently[/li][li]in their natural habitats[/li][li]without human intervention[/li][li]with the intention of seriously harming or killing each other (no asserting dominance rituals and similar)[/li]where the outcome varies from occasion to occasion[/ul]Any examples?

That would be because the whales are actually hunting the squids. Squid beaks have been found in whale’s stomachs; we know they eat them.

Yeah, I know. But it is my understanding that the squids best the whales often enough for it to be an exception to the rule.

Ah, sorry. It wasn’t clear from your post that you were aware of this. :slight_smile:

Cobra and mongoose?

That’s not true. IIRC something like 40% of the time a large gazelle or a buffalo will kick the shit out of the lion and escape. A large percentage of lions die as a result of wounds inflicted by large game.

The same goes for a great many othe prredator-prey interactions where the aniamls are comparable sizes. Cats routinely hunt rabbits, but even a good rabbit hunter will only succeed a bit more than half the time, and usually against smaller animals. The rest of the time the cat gets the shit kicked out of it.

I suspect that you have overestimated the abilities of animals to fight off predators due to watching widlife documentaries. The fact is that all the times when the lions jump on a buffalo, get bucked around and kicked and then thrown off simply aren’t shown because they are broring. Dittto for all the cases where the wolves attack a deer and the deer faces them down and after half an hour of fencing the wolves give up. Not good television.

The point here is that the predators are often wounded in hunts or forced to retreat but the wounds are seldom fatal. That’s because the prey isn’t interested in killing the predator, it doesn’t want a fight to the death, it wants to escape. That isn’t the same as saying that lions don’t often lose when they take on large prey.

I have seen research on how often prey will fight of various predators and it’s surprisingly high, though I can’t quote precise figures now. Certainly not statistically insignifcant.

If you’re asking for cases of where two anaimsl are literally both fighting to the death, where neither side will allow a retreat no matter how mcuh damage they have taken, then no, of course that doesn’t happen. There is no point in animals behaving that way.

Not exactly “to the death”, but I was surprised to learn that a buffalo can best a grizzly bear:

Not always.

This amateur footage of buffalos fighting off lions makes the No. 1 spot in my all time list of wildlife scenes. It runs for 8 minutes but for those who haven’t seen it and who are interested in such incidents it is a must. This footage is not consistent with the demands of the OP but it does show how potential prey can survive against seemingly insurmountable odds.

A herd of buffalo wanders in the general direction of 4 lions. The lions isolate and attack a calf by the water’s edge. There is a struggle. A crocodile emerges from the river and grabs the calf, which is now the subject of a tug of war between the lions and the crocodile. The lions win this battle and then set about the calf. The main herd of buffalo returns and deals with the lions in no uncertain terms. The calf survives.


Asian Giant Hornets are predators upon honey bees - sometimes the hornets win and destroy the hive, sometimes the bees overwhelm them.

Huh. I guess Watership Down wasn’t all bullshit.

How so?

Haven’t seen the clip, but I’d guess because no lions die?

That’s why these encounters are so rare – because the predator will break off the engagement before it is danger of dying most of the time, because even a small injury will prevent them from hunting and thus starving to death, whereas a vegetarian at least has a chance to recover if they can keep away from predators.

The “to-the-death” of the title was put there because some people apparently only read the title, and the space is limited. If I had excluded “to-the-death” I would have got a lot of examples of, say, fights for the dominance of a flock. I thought I made it reasonably clear that the point was that the fight had to be meant to cause harm or death, not that anyone had to actually die. I realise prey will extremely rarely kill a predator even in the kind of fights I’m looking for, as the predator will flee when the fight is going poorly and it’s not like a deer will chase after a pack of wolves.

Dolphins sometimes kill sharks.

One of the lions gets his ass handed to him, possible goring. He/she may have suffered serious enough injury to die from it.

That was an awesome clip, a must see.

Because it’s a group conflict rather than one to one.

Still, if you’re happy with it that’s OK.

group conflict? that’s a freaking wall of buffalos staring down at a few suddenly very tiny cats. thxs for the link.

Lions and hyenas are notorious enemies, and although I’d give a lion the edge* in a one-on-one fight, it’s usually group-on-group (or group-on-solo animal). I saw a Nature show a few years back showing the ongoing fights between a pride of lions and a pack of hyenas, and it was one of the most vicious episodes of fighting I’ve ever seen.

*assuming two healthy adults (which is often not going to be the case)

And the luckiest water buffalo on the face of the planet. Well, if you consider being attacked by a lion, then by another, then dragged to the edge of the river to be eaten by the lions, then grabbed by an alligator and being the object of a tug of war between the lions and the alligator, then almost drowning, and then walking away from it lucky.

I’ve seen a flock of crows chase off a very large hawk. While the hawk was sensible enough to escape before anyone got injured, the crows did give chase, and probably would have gone for the kill, if it had come to that.

There’s almost never a fatal attack either way during group mobbing by birds; crows are smart enough to chase hawks away without endangering themselves by provoking a self-defense reaction. They know the hawks won’t waste the energy to fight back unless they really feel threatened.