Great interest in marking by lynxes from other mammals

This post addresses the  intriguing question of a great interest of wolves, red foxes and deer to lynx marking points, but there is no an opposite reaction of lynxes to marking by the above species. It is easy to realize, why red deer, roe deer and red foxes pay so much attention –  lynxes kill them often. Therefore, any information about lynx distribution and status (adult or young, sex, welfare etc.) are important for these victim species. The same is for wolves. Adult lynxes not rarely kill wolves  from vulnerable categories such as pups, heavily pregnant females, just small individuals (Sidorovich et al., 2018). However why do lynxes pay a minimal attention to marking by deer and even by wolves?

Actually, by tracing wolf marking points with camera traps and checking footprints on wolf marking plots, lynxes were registered surprisingly rarely. While comparing marking points of wolves and lynxes (averaged to the number of traced marking points of each species), in the cold season (November-March) wolves visited lynx marking points 34 times more often than lynxes inspected wolf marking spots.  In the warm season this difference was even more pronounced and comprised 59 times.

It is really hard to find an acceptable explanation to the difference, particularly taking into account that deer do not pay much attention to wolf marking spots despite wolves kill deer with similar frequency as lynxes. Concerning red foxes, they visited wolf marking spots frequently, similarly as lynx ones. But on wolf marking spots red foxes frequently roll to get smell of wolf urine, while they only investigate lynx marking by carefully smelling that.

Because of it is hard to get a relevant hypothesis on the above described difference  in reaction on marking between lynxes, wolves and deer in the aspect of killer – victim relationships, I got a rough idea that the phenomenon may be related to the specificity of the lynx activity pattern, more properly the prevailed mode of the lynx hunting and periodicity of the species marking. The recent findings  (Sidorovich et al., 2018) suggested that ambush hunting i.e. hunt-watching from ambuscade is the prevailed mode of lynx hunting, and ambush hunting  and spotted consuming of prey is alternated by few walking-marking days. Interestingly, that such marking activity a lot population-conformal.

Indeed, when we registered the presence of lynx trails on forest roads in Naliboki Forest or Paazierre Forest, it became so evident that lynxes living in the same terrain (local populations) simultaneously displayed distinctive activity during a rather short period. This feature mainly relates to adult males, as about 80% of the lynx trails found on forest roads were left by adult males with big paws. While inspecting forest roads for this purpose, quite often we found only few lynx trails during 6-14 days in a row, and then suddenly lynx trails (mostly of adult males) appear numerously on forest roads. This switch from staying in a house area to walking-marking happens in one of two weather situations: one or two days after a relatively heavy snowfall; or when the air humidity got markedly higher. The first situation forces lynxes to renew their scent marks, because many scent marks are covered under fresh snow, whereas in the second situation scent marking and smelling and interpreting scent of other individuals is seemingly more effective. During such days, particularly adult males undertake long walks to place scent marks. During such walking-marking days, adult males walk approximately 15-40 km and place from 5 to 20 (usually 7 to 15) territorial marks per km of walking. During winter, the intensity of scent marking during such walks is more or less the same, showing only a double increase just before mating in the second half of February.
During four winters (2014-2018) in Naliboki Forest we traced the activity of one adult male lynx (we call him Kazimir), and during two winters (2016-2018) similar monitoring of activity on forest roads of another adult male lynx (we call him Bazyl’) was carried out. Kazimir’s home range was about 135 km² and he renewed his scent marks in the whole home range during two or three days. On this marking walk Kazimir quite rarely tried to hunt, mainly in the same grassy opening, where he tried to catch roe deer at the forest edge. Actually, this place was used by Kazimir as one of his house areas in October-December and in April. Also, it is worthwhile to notice that this place was not far away (2-4 km) from Kazimir’s main winter house area with sheltered mating spots. In all other places, which Kazimir visited on his marking walks, he normally did not try to hunt and just walked and marked. While making, Kazimir covered a distance of about 40-70 km (usually it walked a standard itinerary of about 54 km) and placed on average 12.4 scent marks per km. During the mentioned four winters we succeeded to register the following duration of brakes between the two consequent marking walks: 8; 17, 11, 6, 12, 10, 9, 10, 12, 7, 15, 4, 8, 9, 12, 9, 6, 14, 8, 4, 8, 3, 9, 13, 6, 12, 5, 7, 10, 6, 2, 5; on average 8.7 days.
Another adult male (Bazyl’) had a home range of about 96 km² and he renewed his territorial marks in the whole home range during two days with quite standard walk of about 51 km. On this marking walk Bazyl’ placed 10.9 scent marks per km, and he tried to hunt in two places, but not much. During the mentioned two winters we registered the following duration of breaks between the two consequent marking walks: 8, 11, 5, 7, 13, 6, 3, 4, 2, 3, 10, 8, 9, 4; on average in 7.2 days.

So, basing on the above results,  the hypothesis on the difference in the reaction of the mentioned species (lynx, wolf, roe deer, red deer, red fox) on lynx or wolf marking is following. Wolf marking points are renewed not conformally on a population level, and that happens the countrywide every day (of course, each day not all marks are renewed by wolves). One day particular wolf pack marks in several places, other days they mark in other places. The wolf-related species habituated that there are more or less fresh markings of wolves continuously and the countrywide. As to lynxes, most of the time there are non-fresh markings and some fresh one sporadically distributed. But one day it appears many fresh lynx markings countrywide and that act stressful for the lynx-related species that in turn pay much attention to marking points of lynxes.

On the many photos that are below-presented you will see many illustration to the described phenomenon.  However, the first batch of photos will only  illustrate marking by lynxes by means of urinating and defecating, scratching and rubbing.

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