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Detailed analysis of fighting in polecats (Mustelidae) using ciné film

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Abstract

The phenomenon of fighting was investigated under laboratory conditions using polecats (Mustela putorius, M. furo and interspecific hybrids). Diadic interactions between male polecats were recorded on 16 mm cine film in an unfamiliar area of 16 m2, one individual having been introduced ten minutes before its opponent.

The behaviour patterns involved in fighting are described and their frequencies of occurrence, duration and average bout lengths specified. Biting, which occupied 41% of the animal's time in fighting, and attacking, which made up 27% of the bouts of behaviour, were the most important actions involved in fighting. Polecats most commonly bite their opponent's neck and bites in this region were the longest in duration. Success in gaining a bite was influenced by the opponent's behaviour at the time of the attack.

Polecats fight when one individual bites its opponent and the opponent retaliates by biting; bite was shown to be the commonest response to being bitten. The length of a fight appears to be determined by the levels of motivation to bite of the two opponents, while biting and being bitten operate as a positive feed back mechanism. The fight terminates when the more aggressive opponent ceases to make spontaneous attacks. The reasons why one individual wins a fight are that it consistently spends more time than its opponent in biting, it persists for longer in making spontaneous attacks and its method of attacking is more efficient.

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