Do (non-human) animals ever misjudge their abilities?

Driving through Colorado, I once saw a goat eating grass/weeds from a crack in the face of a cliff.

The goat was pretty high up the cliff. The extraordinary (to me) thing was that this cliff face was essentially vertical, just a daunting 90o up and down. The face had very small ledges poking out here and there. It was on these tiny ledges that the goat was standing (and upon which he must have made the climb).

The cliff was so straight and flat, these footholds so small, that it looked as if the goat was lying flat on the ground- but the entire scene tilted 90o.

I wondered, could that goat have gotten himself to that patch of weed then, upon finishing eating, realized that he was unable to turn himself around, unable to find a path ahead, unable to back up? Could he have ended up stranded on that cliff, confined to the tiny foothold?
My general uneducated sense of how things work in the wild of nature tells me that animals generally know what they’re doing. How often, though, is this not the case?

Do animals from time to time misjudge their abilities? Does an animal ever misjudge the distance of a jump and end up falling down a canyon? Misjudge footing on a branch and fall out of a tree?

We will limit the inquiry to mature, healthy, non-inebriated animals.

It’s relatively common for housecats to climb on a tree and to then seem unable to climb down or jump.

So I guess the answer is yes.

I’ve seen dogs miss a jump and I remember a video of a whale hitting a boat, birds fly into windows, etc.

One of our cats tried to jump into the window above the washing machine the other day. He came up short, scrambled as he tried to pull himself up the wall, and dropped down out of sight behind the washer and dryer. When he came out, he had a “Yeah, I meant to do that” embarrassed kind of look on his face.

Definitely yes. Youtube is full of videos of cats jumping and missing the mark. For example:

The only limitations I placed in the OP were mature, healthy, non-inebriated animals.

I think I should have also excluded domesticated animals as well. Let’s exclude them from here on out.

Centuries of breeding domestic dogs, cats, etc.: there’s too much human input into the final product. Leaves open the possibility that the keen faculties which would have been bestowed upon the animal by nature have been compromised by human meddling.
Did the bird believe he could fly through the glass, or did he not realized there was anything at all in his path? More likely the latter, so I don’t think that qualifies.

The whale and the boat. Was the whale simply coming out from the water to find a boat unexpectedly in his path? If the whale was aware of the boat, had intended to jump it with the expectation of clearing it and diving clean into the water on the other side, then yeah: fail whale.

That goat was just fine. Check out these.

I’ve seen iguanas fall out of trees. In fact, we paddled down a river in Belize and every half hour or so, an iguana would miss a branch and fall into the river.

Non-domesticated? Still yes. Not involving a man-made object like a boat or a window which isn’t part of their natural environment? Still yes. Two examples I can immediately think of:

You occasionally see a squirrel jump and miss. They will hit the ground, and get up unhurt and seemingly really pissed off.

Porcupines actually have an adaptation to cope with a misjudgement they sometimes make. They have antibiotics in their skin because they sometimes get stuck by their own quills. This will happen when they fall out of trees, having ventured too far out on a branch that won’t support their weight trying to feed on the shoots at the end of the branch.

Sankes sometime misudge the size of their dinner.

And there is always this widely circulated photo:

Whether that picture is real or not, somebody quoted the following from in a snopes discussion on the subject:

I personally saw my resident squirrel a couple years ago miscalculate a jump from one tree to another while taunting my dogs and come crashing to the ground just feet behind the dogs. He did not waste any time in scrambling back up into the tree he had tried to jump into. I’m sure I heard squirrel cussin’ as he made his escape. :slight_smile:


Less inherently amusing, but wild cats miss their mark all the time, in the sense of not being fast/coordinated enough to take down their intended dinner.

If they never made mistakes, they’d have a 100% kill record whenever they chased something down. I can’t find a cite easily online, but I don’t think that’s anywhere near correct.

That’s not working for me.

Many years ago I saw 4 ducks attempting a landing in a field in extremely high wind. They essentially got near the ground, and then just tumbled the rest of the way down. It was not pretty, but they appeared uninjured from their ‘crash’.

Many years ago when I was a kid on the farm, we had a cow lay down next to a sapling on a slight incline. Somehow the cow could not get up, the sapling was kind of lodged into the cows’ indentations just ahead of her back legs, and since she was out of sight, we were unaware of her difficulty. I don’t know how long it took to die, but by the marks on the ground by the hooves, it appeared the poor thing struggled a long time.
Our cat has fallen off the banister by the stairwell twice that we know of. Not hurt either time, but since he is a big kitty, he makes quite a thud on impact. And yes, he always has that ‘yes, I meant to do that look’.

One of our other cats must have sensed that this thread existed. He just got himself stuck under our attic floor. It took a while but we finally coaxed him to someplace where he could get out so that we didn’t have to break a hole into the wall or floor anywhere.

My bearded dragon (a pet, but not domesticated) consistently tries to make jumps to spots that are too far away. I think they must have really lousy depth perception, but they don’t know they do. :slight_smile:

Probably more than one PBS Nature specials have show the dead rotting corpse of a mountain goat. They fall off those cliffs sometimes, and provide a ripe :wink: ready food source for bear coming out of hibernation. Or, where wolves have be introduced, they eat when they find it. Bad luck there, Smoky.

An old house cat of ours never did develop any skill in using his claws. At least weekly, we would discover him snagged to something he could not unhook himself from, usually the living room carpet, but sometimes a bedspread or furniture fabric. The cat would take it in stride, and after struggling for a bit, he would just look pitiful and wait for rescue.

I don’t know if he had some subtle deformity in his claw tendon geometry, or if he was just stupid. (considering how many times he snared himself, I think the ‘stupid’ hypotheses is the winner). Never encountered any other cat that had this problem.