I encountered the following passage in the book The Art of Interactive Design by Criss Crawford (bold formatting is mine):

[...] From stalking and evasion to the chase, the [interaction between mammalian predator and mammalian prey] is loaded with complex mental twists and turns as each tries to anticipate the opponent’s move and counter it. By contrast, the mammalian hunter’s relationship with reptilian prey is much simpler: the prey’s defense lies in venom, camouflage, inaccessibility, or speed. There’s nothing like the death dance between coyote and jackrabbit. And reptiles themselves don’t hunt in the formal sense; that’s too sequential. They wander around looking for an opportunity, and when they come across one, they strike; that’s all.

How accurate is the claim in bold font?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE. The answer very much depend on the definition of hunting. I don't think there is any good way to answer this question. I am voting to close. Intuitively I would say that the claim is quite wrong. I suppose that the best you can do to satisfy you intuition of how reptiles forage is to go on youtube and looked at a bunch of videos. Here is one for example showing a caiman who is foraging on snails. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Oct 15 '15 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Note also that the term reptiles has two different definitions (see this post). You are probably referring first definition on the post I linked. Knowing what you mean by reptiles will allow you to see how different clades of reptiles are foraging and you can decide if you can call their behaviour hunting or not. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Oct 15 '15 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think there is much truth to this statement. It's certainly not true that "They wander around looking for an oppurtunity". Snakes follow trails of scent and heat, crocs wait in ambush at likely crossing points along rivers, and there are surely more examples than that. It's true that having legs underneath the body makes for a more agile/less stable running style and thusly a more interesting race for TV documentaries, but I can't think of any reason why a mammalian brain could cope with that running style better than a reptilian one. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Oct 16 '15 at 4:50
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    $\begingroup$ A definition of hunting is required - for example, a crocodile, in my opinion, hunts; food doesn't simply fall in to its mouth. (Voting to close because clarity is needed). $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Oct 16 '15 at 8:06

Short answer
I think the author is mostly right, but there are exceptions.

The author is probably referring to hunting as being an "active foraging" strategy, while he ascribes the foraging behavior of reptiles to be a "sit-and-wait" strategy.

Active hunters include the classic, and dramatic high-speed, long-distance pursuit strategies deployed by cheetahs and lions, which are indeed mammals. Lions and dolphins are well-known examples of pack hunters that use consorted team effort to catch prey.

enter image description here enter image description here
Sources: Dreamstime and OMG facts

Reptiles, on the contrary, indeed often wait silently for passing prey, instead of deploying active hunting strategies. Well-known examples are crocodiles that lurk silently below the water surface to swiftly grab passing prey, and Komodo dragons that patiently wait for hours at a time to take down passing prey.

enter image description here
Source: Deposit Photos

However, there are exceptions. A study performed by Eric McElroy from Ohio State University reports that lizards use two basic foraging techniques. In the first approach which they dubbed sit-and-wait, lizards are basically waiting for their prey to pass. Then, with a quick burst of speed, they run after their prey, snatching it up with their tongues.

In the other form known as wide or active foraging, lizards move constantly but very slowly in their environment, using their chemosensory system to stalk their prey.

Source: Science Daily

  • $\begingroup$ Great response. However, there is evidence that Komodo dragons actually do perform a more active form of hunting. See this video of Komodo hunting water buffalo. They 'attack' the buffalo by biting it to inflict infection and then sit and wait! :p $\endgroup$ Jan 21 '16 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist - the komodo in the video basically uses the active foraging technique mentioned in the last sentence of the answer. The waiting for the infection to kick in is as passive as it gets. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jan 21 '16 at 8:48

As expressed in the comments, the answer to this question depends on how you define 'hunting'. However, using common definitions in biology, hunting is almost used as a synonym to predation (see quoted definitions below). In that sense, the statement in your question is clearly incorrect, since it is describing the the foraging behaviours of predatory reptiles.

The description of reptile hunting in your quote is also too simplistic, and there is a range from sit-and-wait strategies to active pursuit of prey, see e.g. the section Foraging models in Pianka & Vitt (2006).

A couple of useful definitions can be found below.
From Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Predation, in animal behaviour, the pursuit, capture, and killing of animals for food. Predatory animals may be solitary hunters, like the leopard, or they may be group hunters, like wolves.

The senses of predators are adapted in a variety of ways to facilitate hunting behaviour.


predation (prɪˈdeɪʃən) n
1. (Zoology) a relationship between two species of animal in a community, in which one (the predator) hunts, kills, and eats the other (the prey)

Wikipedia: predation:

predation is a biological interaction where a predator (an organism that is hunting) feeds on its prey (the organism that is attacked).[1] Predators may or may not kill their prey prior to feeding on them, but the act of predation often results in the death of its prey and the eventual absorption of the prey's tissue through consumption.

Even if 'hunt' is often defined in terms of active pursuit, it can also include broader and more passive elements, for instance "seek out; search for", see www.thefreedictionary.com:hunt:

hunt (hŭnt)
v. hunt·ed, hunt·ing, hunts
1. To pursue (game) for food or sport.
2. To search through (an area) for prey: hunted the ridges.
3. To make use of (hounds, for example) in pursuing game.
4. To pursue intensively so as to capture or kill: hunted down the escaped convict.
5. To seek out; search for.
6. To drive out forcibly, especially by harassing; chase away: hunted the newcomers out of town.

I can see the point by @AliceD that 'hunting' is often (in every-day language) used in reference to "active foraging". However, in my eyes this is too restrictive. Also note that the main use of 'hunting' is in reference to hunting by humans, and some of these hunting methods mimic the sit-and-wait strategies of reptiles (see e.g. some methods for big game hunting and the use of traps). If sit-and-wait strategies are not considered hunting, then you are also excluding some human hunting practices from 'hunting'.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice systematic analysis of the question. +1. The author is indeed not a biologist, but a physicist now active in the gaming industry. I linked some pages to the author and the book in the question. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Oct 16 '15 at 11:50

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