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The title sums it up pretty well - I'm basically trying to envision the ultimate predator of much larger prey. A couple of requirements:

  1. The predator must weigh 44 kilograms or more (Megafauna)
  2. It must be specialized in killing said prey
  3. It must be something that could plausibly evolve
  4. It must be terrestrial and have legs
  5. It must be endothermic
  6. It shall hunt in an environment roughly similar to a savannah
  7. The predator mustn't use tools to hunt, only its body

Pack predators are allowed, but let's limit it to less than 20 individuals in a single hunting group (So no swarming). It can be terrestrial, aquatic or aerial, and parasitoidism is allowed, but not preferred.

On the prey's size - basically, assume that the maximum mass of the prey will be 200,000 kilograms, and that the minimum will be roughly 10x the size of the predator. The closer the prey is to the maximum, the better.

Michael Kjorling was wondering about how I define efficiency - essentially, I mean "the likelihood of a hunting attempt being successful".

As for what I'm looking for in answers, I'd like them to describe as much as is necessary - if only one method or aspect is required for the task, then the rest of the details can be left for me to decide.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 5 '18 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ Well, there is only one way to be sure... $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Sep 5 '18 at 11:16

13 Answers 13

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If the terrain, your social organization, and the prey behavior permit...then a Buffalo Jump will provide your tribe in one day with far more meat than they can eat before it spoils.

Convincing very, very large animals to go over the Jump is not easy - it requires teamwork, creativity, and bravery. It is, though, very efficient.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Larger yes, but much larger? You have to be big enough to decoy or otherwise herd the animals. The total amount of meat is similar to killing one animal much larger than yourself, but that's not what the question asks. They're more interested in a maximal size-mismatch. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Sep 5 '18 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ Source for the image you posted? It's not on the Wikipedia page. $\endgroup$ – madscientist159 Sep 5 '18 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes Wouldn't one be able to use this technique with, say, a herd of (or a single) brachiosaurus? Honest question. (I say brachiosaurus just to mention a very big animal) $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Sep 5 '18 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ @xDaizu: as a human? I doubt you'd be big enough for them to notice you and change direction to head for a cliff. It would expect creatures of your size to get out of its way or get stepped on. You have to be able to herd or lead the animals, and it will only work for charging-herd type animals. Not ones that look at the path ahead more carefully and don't run so fast. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Sep 5 '18 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes The predator won't be big enough for being noticed, but they can make an impact (like a very painful sting, a flash of light or even starting a fire) that will be noticed. The part about needing a charging-herd for this to work is an excellent point, though. It would depend on the undefined prey behaviour. Could animals of that size plausibly evolve a charging-herd behaviour? That could be addresed in the answer. $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Sep 5 '18 at 9:11
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Definitely parasitoidism.

Parasitoidism is one of the most widespread ecological tactics in the world. It's a darn good method with a lot of solid theory behind it. It guarantees that your offspring will have an abundance of food when they need it most, and the incredible specialization undergone by parasitoids implies an abundance of niches and an ability to become incredibly efficient. You'll use a minimum of calories to take the thing out (temporary paralysis, only if necessary) and consume a maximum (the entire body of the host).

Also, it's already a thing. Check out this parasitoid wasp taking down a cicada easily 100 times its size:

parasitoid wasp on a cicada

While the square-cube law is a different problem for scaling this up to megafauna, it's a problem that's been solved before.

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    $\begingroup$ This might be the best approach for a tiny predator, but I find it hard to imagine a large dog or a smaller human (the lowest mass of the predator) eating a slightly bigger blue whale (the upper mass of the prey) in such a way... so scaling that far up might be a problem. $\endgroup$ – Zizy Archer Sep 5 '18 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ The parasitic wasp doesn't actually eat its prey, though. (At least AFAIK.) It lays its eggs in it, the eggs hatch into larvae, which then consume the host from within. This avoids a major problem with killing large prey, the fact that it's likely to spoil before you can get more than a few meals off it. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 5 '18 at 17:48
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The predator could be like a venomous snake, but in a different way. The smaller organism could use a hemotoxin to attack its prey, slowly making the much larger prey bleed out. Then, the predator could drag the carcass back to its den to feed its young, or just leave it out in the open for scavengers. Alternatively, biting the leg of the prey with neurotoxins could cause the prey's legs to become paralyzed and the predator could kill the prey that way, by causing the heart to stop beating.

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    $\begingroup$ With the animal its attacking being at least 10x larger, what are the chances it gets stomped on or killed after it attacks and before the toxin can fully set it? When I imagine snakes attacking, they are always attacking prey smaller than them and the venom has near instant effects. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Sep 5 '18 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly the predator can strike an animal and move out of the animals' immediate vicinity because of its long neck. $\endgroup$ – Pyrania Sep 5 '18 at 11:32
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The best approach is bacteria. Komodo dragons harbor some particularly nasty bacteria in their mouth. They are known to bite a prey once, and then just follow it as it succumbs to fever, and then death. Komodo dragons happen to be big, but they don't need to be big for this approach to work. They just need to be able to deliver bacteria deep enough into a wound to do the trick.

Of course it is enormously wasteful to take down a creature 10x your size. Even the giant snakes which eat entire baby deer are at least eating something on par with their size, and can convert it to fat stores before it spoils in their stomach. As such, I would expect such predators to hunt in packs. A pack would permit consumption and digestion of the meat faster, so it would not waste any food, and there has to be some advantage to working in packs. Evolution is not known to miss out on a free lunch.

Of course, if you really want the hunt to be successful, change the game. Consider making this a symbiotic species which helps the health of the healthy game, and prunes the pack of its weak. Maybe they help the giant game find food. Or maybe they help rear the young, but cull those that would otherwise not survive.

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  • $\begingroup$ that type of predation relies on hte dragons slow metabolism, it can afford to wait days for the prey to die. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 4 '18 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Cheetahs often take down larger prey. They themselves have to eat and flee before the larger predators arrive to eat the rest of the carcass. $\endgroup$ – Stephen Sep 5 '18 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer, but the fact that Komodo dragons uses bacteria is a myth, they use toxins to bleed out their victims. source $\endgroup$ – Thronghar Sep 5 '18 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Stephen If memory serves, Cheetahs hunt in packs, right? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 5 '18 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Thronghar But... but.. David Attenborough said it in a documentary. IT MUST BE TRUE!! *sniff* nice find. Sad when my favorite myths must go, but I guess a few decades of science does eventually shed new light on things. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 5 '18 at 14:57
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I would suggest a large flying predator with a straight, thin, sharp horn. For evolutionary support consider a swordfish or narwhal tusk.

The predator is evolved for a sneak swooping attack from behind on the larger prey, basically it flies silently (As owls have evolved to do), does a sharp U-turn above its prey, in the air. It has strong neck muscles that with a jerk stabs its horn through the eye of the prey into its brain, causing a massive brain hemorrhage.

An equally quick jerk back withdraw this stabbing instrument very quickly, and it resumes flight for escape.

If the horn is broken, it is shed and a new one regrows relatively quickly; it really only needs to be long enough to penetrate from eye to a major brain artery.

I would make them social animals for just this reason; the huge prey is enough to feed the whole flock for a month (for evolutionary support, vultures will eat long dead animals), so if one member loses its horn it still eats for the month it takes to regrow the horn.

The advantage of this approach is the prey can hardly develop armor plating for its eyes and still see; the eye with the optic nerve to the brain is a weak point on most animals, and a relatively small brain injury can be quite fatal. If there is bone behind the eye, part of the specialization in the strike is the hunter's horn is precisely the width of the optic nerve for THIS prey, and they find that hole 95% of the time. Several hunters could attack the same animal, if the first fails and breaks its horn, the next guy takes his chance.

This is also not a venom (most venoms kill more than one kind of prey). Many dinosaurs evolved bone plates on the their body and foot-thick skin to thwart direct attacks; they can't defeat this attack that way.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems really logical and smart to me, although I'm not totally sold on the horn idea. Horns are great at attacks without being attacked in turn, but I feel like it would be better if the horn was snapped off in the prey rather than being pulled out. It already regrows quickly, the pack has backups in the form of other members, and having a barbed horned stuck in an animal is a good way to keep it from healing and resisting infection. Even with that fix, talons that can sever arteries seem easier for a bird of prey to evolve. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion Sep 5 '18 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion: Sooo.. giant bees? $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 5 '18 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs They don't have venom, like bees, their means of lethality is physical trauma; just like the teeth of a saber tooth tiger severing the spinal cord of a moose-sized animal. Is a saber tooth tiger also a giant bee? $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Sep 5 '18 at 10:15
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    $\begingroup$ @PinionMinion As I mentioned, many large creatures evolve thick tough hides that would not be penetrated by talons, or the talons would cause only superficial (healable) harm. The larger the creature, the more buried and protected its vital organs and arteries. As for plausibility, Google toucan; a bird, whose bill is often half the length of its body, and composed of keratin, the same material as a horn or talon. Also, talons are not a specialized adaptation to kill a specific animal! As OP requested, I am proposing evolved equipment and behavior to kill one and only one form of prey. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Sep 5 '18 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Amadeus: my comment was in reply to pinionminions suggestion that the horns be barbed and designed to break off in the prey as a swarm can keep up the attack even if one individual has no weapon any more (exactly the MO of bees). $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 5 '18 at 12:54
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You want the Dire Wolf

Weighing in at approximately 68kg, Canis dirus was a pack hunter believed to prey on megafauna such as the Columbian Mammoth (weighing 10,000kg). This is evidenced by it's large teeth and high sheer bite strength, as well as it's extinction after the Quaternary Extinction Event which killed off a whole bunch of megafauna, and various predators who had just lost their food source, the Dire Wolf among them.

From @T.E.D in a comment:

As a clarification, there are some modern wolf subspecies and dog breeds that get nearly that large. What was really special about the Dire Wolf that modern wolves no longer have is the bite strength, which the data shows to be directly related to the relative size of a predator's prey

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    $\begingroup$ As a clarification, there are some modern wolf subspecies and dog breeds that get nearly that large. What was really special about the Dire Wolf that modern wolves no longer have is the bite strength, which the data shows to be directly related to the relative size of a predator's prey. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Sep 5 '18 at 13:53
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Your two main choices will probably be pursuit predators like humans, or venom users like snakes and cone snails. Those two techniques are tried and true plus work on prey of incredible relative size. No pack hunter will ever be as good as a single venomous hunter.

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I feel like nothing is going to work better on large prey than a good set of teeth and strong jaws. If you look at almost all the large hunters, they use their jaw. Both on land and in the water (its a bit different in the water). I don't include in the air because I don't see a way for a bird to be able to hunt prey 10x larger than it while on flat terrain (no good air currents to help it gain altitude). It would expend so much energy and while on the ground it would be vulnerable to scavengers and other hunters or the so called large prey its hunting.

I would imagine the best way would be to be able to maul the preys throat, preventing it from breathing properly, severing major arteries to the head and letting it bleed out fairly quickly. Of course, the problem with larger animals is that they have larger necks, are usually taller and have thicker skin. So the second best way would be to exhaust it/bleed it out by making numerous cuts on its body.

You can watch videos of wolves, lions and other pack predators hunting larger animals. There are advantages to hunting as a pack and disadvantages. Firslty there is strength in numbers. You can fan out, trap and direct your prey. You can have multiple tries at taking down and injurying your prey, weakening them enough until you can overwhelm them. You can also have members sit out of a hunt, either because they are injured, raising young or otherwise unable to participate. Of course the disadvantage is that you have a much larger number of mouths to feed with the same prey. You also have several members that can distract the target while the others attack it.

The problem with solo hunting is that if your creature becomes sick, injured, pregnant or generally unwell it is faced with death straight away. Being low on energy and trying to recover can be risky. Being even lower on energy after you have recovered will lead to most of your hunts failing as you just won't have as much energy to use as before. The biggest issue with this is that big prey often develop deterrences and defences to protect themselves. Buffalo have horns. One unlucky stratch for a solo predator is a death sentence and since the animal is larger you cant just over power it. You need to weaken it first before making a killing blow.

Another suggestion people are making is using poison, venom or some sort of toxin. This wouldn't work too well for larger prey, especialy 10x larger prey. The toxin will take time to propagate and during this time your hunter is vulnerable to attack from a panicking prey. Just due to size, this can become a huge risk. A single stomp could end you and the prey collapsing on you will also likely just end you.

You can also look at the nature of hunters (Snakes) that utilize venom. They are often ambush predators which means they wait patiently for the prey to come near them. This means that they need to be well disguised and have a low metabolism to they don't waste unnecessary energy while waiting for the prey to come to them. The best way for them to ensure that is to be small so they won't be seen, or hide in large bodies of water so they can remain cool and not be seen. The issue with ambush hunters is that they can't just affort to hunt one type of prey. Since the prey needs to approach them, anything they can consume is good enough. Secondly, I don't think I've seen many cases of a ambush hunter taking down something 10x larger than it.

THe final point I want to make is that larger animals all tend to be herd animals. Large animals often don't have predators before their large size makes it extremely hard for predators to take them down and for it to be worth it. Since the large prey can't be hunted due to their size and the risk, hunters often go for their calves or babies who are significantly smaller and more vulnerable. To counteract this, the large animals stay in a herd to offer protection.

Basically, I'm saying Pack Hunters, built for endurance and multiple short bursts of speed, with really sharp and maybe replaceable/regrowable teeth. You wear the animal down over time and go for the killing blow once its too tired to retaliate. A prey 10x larger is a huge risk to hunt, so they need to be agile. It will be too large to take down instantly via any sort of body part or toxin and staying close and attached to it would be a huge risk to any hunter, so they will need to distract it, and dart in and out, making numerous small cuts and bites that build up over time.

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Endurance, aka Persistence Hunting.

The creature could cause it's chosen prey to flee and it keeps on following, never allowing the prey to rest. A hunt might take days but the animal is so exhausted by the end that it can't fight back effectively

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  • $\begingroup$ How does the predator cause that level of panic on the prey? $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Sep 5 '18 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ A noise maybe? There might be another large predator hunting for the same prey causing some specific sound. Pray evolved to recognise the sound and flee in panic. A smaller predator could evolve to mimic the sound of its larger competition and use it to scare the prey. The only bit is that it has to stay out of prey's sight. $\endgroup$ – Ister Sep 5 '18 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ @xDaizu: large herbivores can be surprisingly easy to spook. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 5 '18 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ @xDaizu - It doesn't need to be panic. If the individual is not personally capable of fending off an attack (particularly from an entire pack dog-piling at once), then its only option is to stay out of range. It can be calm, cool, and collected about it, but still tire out I the end. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Sep 5 '18 at 14:19
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Do you see any Woolly Mammoths today? That's because humans hunted them to extinction. This was achieved by a method of hunting known as "persistence Hunting". The Human animal is actually one of the most physically enduring mammals known to science. Over distance and time, a human will out pace every other animal on the planet. This was part of the evolution to cope with their chosen hunting strategy. It was not find a mammoth and throw rocks and sticks at it until it died... but to know that the mammoth would prefer to flee and while faster on initial flight, would need to rest, and sooner than the human... during the rest of the animal, the human would continue to follow it and catch up, attempt to kill it, only for it to flee, but not fully rested. This pattern resulted in less down time to recover, which only meant less time to put distance between the prey and predator... eventually it would either succumb to it's wounds or just give up out of sheer tiredness... at which point it became dinner. And the larger the animal, the more recovery time it needs.

To the animal world, humans are the Terminator. We do not give up, we cannot be negotiated with, we do not compromise, and we never ever stop until you are dead.

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Also find another dinasour, Deinonychus. Bottom quote from here. Hunted dinasour is Tenontosaurus.

Tenontosaurus

  • Name: Tenontosaurus
  • Height: 3 meter
  • Lenght: 6,5 – 8 meter
  • Mass: 1.000 – 2.000 kg

Deinonychus

  • Name: Deinonychus
  • Mass: 73 – 100 kg (Grown)
  • Height: 1.5 meter
  • Lenght: 3.5 meter

"In 1969, palaeontologist John Ostrom described a strange dinosaur from the 110m-year-old rock of Montana. Named Deinonychus, this roughly human-sized predator had grasping hands, a hyperextendable sickle claw on each foot, and a stiff tail that acted as a dynamic counterbalance. Presented as the antithesis of the reptilian dinosaur archetype, Ostrom concluded that Deinonychus "must have been a fleet-footed, highly predaceous, extremely agile and very active animal, sensitive to many stimuli and quick in its responses."

Ostrom also thought that Deinonychus was a pack hunter. At least three Deinonychus were found alongside the herbivorous dinosaur Tenontosaurus at a quarry excavated by Ostrom and his colleagues, and numerous Deinonychus teeth were discovered among the remains of the same prey at fourteen other sites. (Since dinosaurs replaced teeth throughout their lives, predators could occasionally afford to lose a tooth or two while feeding.) Where Tenontosaurus bones were found, traces of Deinonychus frequently turned up.

Tackling a Tenontosaurus wasn't easy. Despite lacking armour or spikes, an 8-metre adult Tenontosaurus would have been hefty enough to break the bones of an attacker. Killing such a large animal would have required cooperation, and this conjecture – along with the common association between the two species – fuelled the idea that packs of Deinonychus often pounced upon poor Tenontosaurus. The gory conflicts were immortalised in museum displays and palaeo-art ever after and, given a name change, Deinonychus used the same tactics in Jurassic Park.

But not everyone has agreed that Deinonychus hunted in packs. In 2007 palaeontologists Brian Roach and Daniel Brinkman argued that the Tenontosaurus kill sites Ostrom cited represented bloody scrambles where individual Deinonychus scrapped over feeding rights. In Ostrom's view, the three partial Deinonychus skeletons that inspired his hypothesis were individuals that were killed while bringing down the Tenontosaurus, but Roach and Brinkman argued that the three were slaughtered by other Deinonychus during competition for the carcass. The dinosaurs were more like komodo dragons than wolves."

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Find something big to do the gruntwork.

raven and wolf https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/254704.Mind_of_the_Raven

You leave open the nature of the prey. If your killer does not actually get is own claws dirty, its method could be used on multiple prey types.

Your predator is like the raven. It specializes in killing very large things because it knows its neighborhood. When it finds a large prey item ripe for the killing, it knows where to find a large carnivore able to kill it. Then it leads that carnivore to the prey item.

Ravens do exactly this. Historically they work with wolves, but they can lead wolverines, badgers, and also people to prey animals. The raven cannot kill these large prey items themselves. But the ravens like the meat, and there is more than enough.

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Dude, you are completely talking about Raptors. When i read your instructions, is said this is Utahraptor. Utahraptop wiki - Utahraptop dino wikia - raptop family

Raptors are knows as close relation family gangs. They can not hunt alone (maybe but rather not to), they can kill preys 1000 times of them with a 10-20 group members. They have reputation even killing big t-rex and biggest dinosaur of all time Brachiosaurus. These fellas are very social, they have nested, they have eggs to protect. You can watch Jurassic park movie, they are famous there too.

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  • $\begingroup$ Any reputable source for raptors killing brachiosaurus? $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Sep 5 '18 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ @xDaizu when i was a kid, i have watched it in a documentary, but right now i have no resource for this. $\endgroup$ – Alper Ayna Sep 5 '18 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ @xDaizu Utahraptor and Brachiosaurus never coexisted, I believe he is talking about Sauroposeidon. I think I know the doc he's talking about, and a lot of it was inaccurate. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Sep 5 '18 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @SealBoi I actually know that they do not coexist but it is a reference that they killed some big one but i do not remember the name of it. It is a big one, probably the one you said. $\endgroup$ – Alper Ayna Sep 6 '18 at 4:58

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