The aggressive behaviour of individual male polecats (Mustela putorius, M. furo and hybrids) towards familiar and unfamiliar opponents

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Abstract

Experiments are described which were designed to investigate the significance of individual differences in aggressiveness between polecats and the relation between the familiarity of the opponent and the pattern and outcome of fighting.

The behaviour of Mustela putorius, M. furo and hybrids between the two species was investigated in an indoor arena of 16 m2.

Two kinds of fighting between male polecats were recorded, “companion fighting” between cage mates, in which biting was inhibited and neither of the opponents became intimidated and “uninhibited fighting” between unfamiliar individuals from which a winner and loser generally emerged and a rank order formed.

Individual differences in aggressiveness were assessed by means of a scoring system which statistical analysis showed, generally, to be consistent for any one individual. The rank of an animal, however, was found not to be invariably related to its aggression score.

A number of other factors influencing fighting were investigated, the earlier introduction of one individual into the arena increases its chances of winning a fight; when offered a choice, male polecats fight strangers in preference to cage mates; and the separation of a group of cage mates for as little as 48 hours induces them to behave towards one another like strangers with the result that a rank order is formed. Factors which had no apparent effect on fighting between males were the weight of the individual or the presence of females.

The attributes of familiar and unfamiliar opponents are discussed in the light of these findings.

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