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Given an unlimited time to evolve: what are the best ways to make any wild bovinae immune to its natural predators like the classic big felines (lions or tigers) and most reptiles (crocodiles or Komodo dragons) and so on.

The cow has to evolve a universal defense that can work on these animals and more.

But: it has to look like a cow or give the idea that this animal has something to do with cows.

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    $\begingroup$ A simple evolution would be to have poisonous flesh, which doesn't affect the bovinae but affects all predators. But by virtue of evolution predators will evolve to be also immune to poison. Evolution is a dynamic struggle you cannot have something which is immune to everything all the time. Unless you become super-predator like humans. $\endgroup$ – Chinu Jul 27 '16 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ Is each individual animal required to be immune or can it be the group that's immune while some individuals die, taking the predator with them (as in the case of poisonous flesh @Chinu mentions)? $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Jul 27 '16 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ each individual $\endgroup$ – άλεξ μιζέρια Jul 27 '16 at 9:58
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    $\begingroup$ As @Chinu pointed out: the predators will evolve too. So whatever defense the prey evolves, the predators will evolve a response to. Only two things may work: 1) size (as shown below), or 2) becoming predators themselves. Beware the Murder Cows! :D $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Jul 27 '16 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Chinu There have been two separate species that have very successfully evolved to be immune from humans. I give you the cat and the dog. Their cuteness gives them immunity from predation. $\endgroup$ – Aron Jul 28 '16 at 3:16

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Let's keep things simple and real. This has already happened in our real world. I present you the elephant:

enter image description here

According to the wiki:

The size of adult elephants makes them nearly invulnerable to predators(...)

So what you really need is an immensely huge cow.

Evolution has taken elephants there, it could take cows as well.


It seems nature has already done that.

Nowadays the only predator cows have in the civilized world are humans. With that said, meet Knickers:

Knickers

From Knickers the cow: why Australia’s giant steer is so fascinating:

(...) Knickers’ story is one of hope and reprieve. Pearson tried to offload him (...), only to be told by the meat processors said the steer was just too large for the abattoir.

“He’s too big for the chain, he’s out of spec, he’d be too heavy for the machines and he’d probably actually be hanging on the floor, so there would be contamination issues, and his cuts of meat would be too large,” Pearson says.

To be fair, Knickers is just 6'4" tall at the shoulders. The cows in the picture are of a very small variety. Still, Knickers is too large for his sole predator species to slaughter him safely!

Granted, we are not natural predators of cows, but I think Knickers would make a lion think twice before attacking.

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  • $\begingroup$ Except, to finish the quote: "...though there are rare reports of adult elephants falling prey to tigers." So even the elephant isn't immune to predators. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 27 '16 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ But if they were bigger though... Jurassic cows... $\endgroup$ – ognockocaten Jul 27 '16 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre: That's the relatively tiny Asian elephant. Any sober tiger won't even consider taking on an adult African elephant male. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 16 '17 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Consider that this is partially due to the fact that a lot of the megafauna specialist predators - especially machairodont cats - have been wiped out due to competition with humans. In natural conditions, adult African elephants would probably have natural predators. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 21 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ However there are packs of lions that have been filmed bringing down adult african elephant. nothing is completely immune to predators. $\endgroup$ – John May 22 at 2:13
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Well, immunity to the predators as they currently exist (not counting humans^^) might be doable:

For the big cats: They usually kill their prey by biting their windpipe, either crushing it outright or holding on and clamping it shut if crushing isn't an option. Usually they'll stagger the prey by attacking with their paws, or jumping onto them for big ones, so they can reach the throat more easily. To counter that, evolve either thick skin/hair/actual bones protecting the neck, or a superhu... superbovinely solid stand to avoid getting knocked over, allowing the animal to defend its throat with horns and front hooves. Or combine them both.

For the crocodile-variants: Those will usually lie in wait in the water, attacking when prey comes near. Small prey (which your bovines would not be) gets dragged under and drowned, bigger prey gets whichever piece of flesh (or entire limb) the croc gets a hold of twisted off (and might bleed out from that). Countering that completely is harder - the easiest method would be a way to spot those predators and avoid them, but if they're lying in the only watering hole nearby that becomes unrealistic, and spotting a croc lying in murky water is hard enough as it is. Maybe your bovines did evolve a way to spot them though (maybe they have exceptional ears allowing them to pinpoint sources of heartbeat nearby, and if there's nothing visible they assume predator) and became aggressive towards anything trying to eat them along with stronger offensive options - maybe long horns that they can use like spears to impale anything lurking in the water, or maybe their bodies are more suited to trampling through even the thickest hide with sharp hooves.

Komodo dragons hunt with a venomous bite and razor-sharp teeth, biting bits of flesh off even the biggest prey animals. For those, I'd recommend a "kill it before it kills you" approach too - it's unfeasible for the big cats who might hunt in packs, but AFAIK komodos are solitary hunters, so it should be fine for them.

Note though that as mentioned, "given unlimited time to evolve" it's very likely that some predator(s) evolve measures to counter THESE adaptions again.

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    $\begingroup$ Komodo dragons are not poisonous, but rather may have venom. The science behind that is apparently controversial. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 27 '16 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre: thanks, corrected that. I sometimes forget the distinction between poison and venom because it's both the same word in german ;) $\endgroup$ – Syndic Jul 27 '16 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't it also evolve gills to avoid being drowned? $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jul 27 '16 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ I think @Frostfyre is making the distinction between the words "poisonous" and "venomous". "Poisonous" means that the flesh itself is toxic; "venomous" means that the animal can inject venom (which is a poison). So, for example, most venomous snakes are not poisonous: you could eat their flesh without any ill effects, as long as you avoid the parts that make and store the venom. In contrast, mushrooms are poisonous but not venomous: the flesh is toxic but they don't squirt poison at you. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jul 28 '16 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Great. Now I'm imagining mobile, venomous mushrooms. LSD with a bite! $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 28 '16 at 12:06
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Any specific adapations, as has been mentioned, may not suffice. But being huge and tough often helps. If you think of the really big game in the savannah; elephants, rhinos, hippos, adults of the species are rarely attacked. They're just too big, tough, and powerful. There are some rare times where you see an elephant getting mauled by a gang of lions, but it's pretty much an exception to the rule.

It's interesting you ask about bovines in particular, since the bison is a pretty bad ass cow. A pack of wolves can only take down the weak and alone; and when they do so they often do it at great risk of injury. There was a youtube video I watched once asking why did Europeans infected native Americans with diseases and not vice versa; (can't cite youtube where I am, if anyone can edit and insert said video, thanks) and a large part of that answer was about the human population's access to animal species with certain properties. Cows in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, can be domesticated and thus were domesticated, contributing to diseases and industry. But the bison? Good luck. They're just too big and unruly.

So I would venture that what you need is an "ultra bison". Maybe it's huge (like an elephant), or just has much tougher skin and is much stronger (like a rhino or hippo). Maybe all of those possibilities. In any case your ultra bison will just be too much for anything to prey on it.

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    $\begingroup$ youtube.com/watch?v=JEYh5WACqEk is probably the missing video $\endgroup$ – Thijser Jul 27 '16 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ Super bison like these? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bison_antiquus $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jul 27 '16 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @ckersch excellent find! But at best a measly 25% larger? No, bigger! I get more than 25% extra from many items at the supermarket, we need something more to qualify as super! $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Jul 27 '16 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @inappropriateCode I found an even bigger one: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bison_latifrons. Possibly a competitor for "largest ever ruminant", with some estimates outweighing the giraffe. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jul 27 '16 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel sets out the links between domestication and disease in great (but very readable) detail. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Jul 28 '16 at 9:36
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Intelligence

Simple, really. The absolute most dangerous predator in existance is the human - we can kill everything, and could wipe out every other species[1] from the planet tomorrow if we wanted to.

Have your cows evolve an intelligence matching the current humans, and they will soon construct intricate traps for every type of predator.


[1] Although we won't be able to kill all the bacterias and maybe not the deep sea creatures, which may lead to a nice story.

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    $\begingroup$ It seems clear that intelligence is at least partially impacted by the animal's ability to do fine-motor manipulation. I can't see a hooved animal building traps, or even digging effective holes, but moreover I can't see them 'playing' with things in a way that gives them deeper insight into how they work. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Jul 27 '16 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord A cow's hoof is cloven in two, so they are at least better equipped than a horse. You can dig if you have strong and large horns. Yeah, grasping for straws here but still.. $\endgroup$ – pipe Jul 28 '16 at 3:39
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord given unlimited time, the animal will resemble little to a cow, as our ancestors to us. $\endgroup$ – Stormbolter May 22 at 15:00
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Running backwards in time, we see two possible defence mechanisms among the dinosaurs.

Becoming large and aggressive, which many of the posters have suggested, was the path the Ceratopsid dinosaurs took, culminating with the Triceratops. The reconstruction of these animals is most similar to the bison, large, aggressive, armed with horns and protected by a thick skin and bony collar. Of course since the top predator of the era was T-Rex, half measures would not do.

enter image description here

A modern reconstruction of Triceratops

The other path, which hasn't been suggested yet, is to evolve a tough outer shell to resist attacks. Ankylosaurian dinosaurs evolved in this direction, with a low stance to prevent being overturned, a rigid outer shell to stop teeth and claws, and even protection in the form of a tail "mace" and often sharp protrusions around the shell to protect against attackers coming in low.

enter image description here

Of the two evolutionary directions, the large and aggressive one has already been tried with some success in the bovine family. Bison, Water Buffalo and the extinct Aurochs all took this route. It is interesting to also recall that they evolved this way specifically to deal with big cats; the Bison's ancestors had sabre-toothed cats as the American top predator in the Ice Age, buffalo are under threat by tigers in Asia and lions in Africa, and aurochs were threatened by European lions.

To date, no animal has evolved a method to deal with humans....

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    $\begingroup$ To date, no animal has evolved a method to deal with Humans -- I disagree. Submitting to domestication turns out to be an excellent way of ensuring that your species will thrive. It may not be great for the individual animals (you're right, it doesn't stop humans eating you), but for a species as a whole it's an absolute winning strategy. $\endgroup$ – Simba Jul 27 '16 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Simba: Let's also not forget that many species of animal are quite capable of killing humans (bears, tigers, moose, etc). Even cattle, if a human is unlucky enough to find themselves in a stampede (or foolish enough to engage a bull one-on-one). $\endgroup$ – TMN Jul 27 '16 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ True, but this does not seem to be the OP's intent. You are talking about a variation of herding/flocking/schooling behaviours, which use numbers to protect most of the creatures, while those at the edges get picked off. Stupid humans being killed by animals is evolution in our favour (so long as the stupid human didn't have children). $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jul 27 '16 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ A third direction is to get very very big. The juvenile members of the largest of the monstrous browsers would be vulnerable, but those who reached adulthood would be safe. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jul 27 '16 at 14:21
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You don't need to make them tougher or bigger. Make cows more socially cooperative and way more aggressive that what they are now: make them real killers that react to any threat by stampeding it.

The current strategy of bovines is to sacrifice the weaker individuals to predators, leaving them behind while the herd just runs away. Sometimes the mother of a calf will try to defend it against an attacker, but that is all.

Now, imagine every member of the herd reacts violently when they see a predator. Imagine a complete breed of vicious, vengeful, relentless cows that WILL pursue you and will kill you if you do as little as to get close to one of them.

While this isn't exactly a change that makes each individual unkillable in their own, it makes every one of them extremely hard to reach. Predators will stop chasing them simply because the huge risk of trying. And is very possible individual cows do become much more capable when using their natural weapons, simply because now their focus isn't to flee from threats but to attack.

Lastly, this kind of evolution is somewhat easier to happen: a mutation changing the cows behavior just a little (and snowballing later) can be simpler to believe than a huge, noticeable change to their physical structure.

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    $\begingroup$ African buffalo are bovines which come back to assist herd members reasonably often, and will mob lions and try to kill their cubs. There are even records of blind individuals surviving for a long time within the protection of the herd (as mentioned in The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals by Estes). American buffalo sometime assist herd members too, but not to the same extent. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Jul 27 '16 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, the Battle at Kruger shows that cow-like animals are already quite aggressive when it comes to dealing with animals. Predators are normally attackers-of-opportunity, and even against aggressive, cooperative groups might still find targets of opportunity - thus not making the prey immune. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Jul 27 '16 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ That is why I suggest to exagerate this behavior. Make it not somewhat common, but the "only" standard reaction. $\endgroup$ – Ardid Aug 5 '16 at 20:58
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We have a broad range of ideas here based on aggressive battlecows or poisonous purple cows (you would need some kind of coloring to warn away the predators), but Simba's comment about dealing with human predators has me thinking in the opposite direction: what if cows leveraged the power of cute?

Cutiecows look like adorable kittens exude a pheromone that triggers the parental urge to protect them. As a result, most herds will tend to acquire a posse of otherwise-dangerous animals that follow them around and keep them safe.

Consider how the otherwise defenseless sheep is kept safe by people and animals that are motivated to help them. It works! Moreover, mind control fungus is a real thing, and I speculate that cutiecows could evolve in a way that coerces the local apex predator (ew, that might be us) to protect them, whether they (we) want to or not.

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    $\begingroup$ Cats already do that to humans. Their mewing and some of their petting behaviors have evolved exclusively to please homo sapiens, thus making the species an object of human attention and care. Some researchers even are studying the soothing effect of cat-carried toxoplasma in humans. Youtube's cat videos should be proof enough that this kind of mechanism does work! $\endgroup$ – Ardid Aug 5 '16 at 21:02
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If you can't fight them, befriend them.

Evolve the cows and one predator species so that they depend on them.

One scenario could be:

1) The predator specie depends on the cow milk to raise their kids 2) They now live together 3) If the cows get attacked, the predator will defend them.

1) Could be replaced by any competitive advantage:

  • The cows carry the eggs of the reptilian species
  • The cows dejections contains vital proteins/vitamins/antidote the predator cannot synthesize
  • The cows can spot other vulnerable species
  • The cows can find water
  • The cows ...
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  • $\begingroup$ Cows did this. Humans are the predator species. It has worked out great for both of us. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 22 at 2:21
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Perhaps the cows could diverge into "breeders" and "fighters", which would be an extension/exaggeration of the cow/bull model. Certain cows would be born with characteristics (natural armor, sharp teeth, possibly some way to project venom, better speed and agility) that would make them protectors of the herd. Bulls do this naturally to some extent now, "protector" types would be more numerous and have the ability/inclination to work together to protect the herd from pack-type predators.

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Group defense. See musk oxen. Combine that with making them huge, maybe beef up their hair more for defense and less for warmth (thick hair is hard to bite through). Think a giant musk ox with horns even more metal than the ones they already have, plus a German Shepherd's fur.

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I think all the other answerers have missed the most obvious, and foolproof, solution - make the cows apex predators themselves. Virtually no land herbivores are, under natural conditions, free from predation - elephants may seem to be so, but that's only because humans have wiped out a bunch of megafauna-specialist lineages (e.g. sabertooth cats), and apparently caused a trend in lower average size in large hypercarnivores across the globe.

Even fully-grown Paraceratherium, the largest land mammals ever, evidently were preyed on by giant Crocodylus bugtiensis. Blue whales are immune to predation as adults (and orcas do prey on them when they're subadults), but you can't get anything the size of a blue whale which still looks like a cow. So, in my opinion - herbivory is not an option. Instead, let the cows reside at the top of the food chain.

Herbivorous animals have turned carnivorous numerous times in Earth's history. Among mammals, there are the mesonychids, entelodonts and relatives, early whales, and even a species of pig called Tetraconodon. There's also an ankylosaur called Laoiningosaurus which some hold is piscivorous. Deer, hippos, boar and indeed cows also consume meat from time to time.

enter image description here

They still might look like cows. If this was a burly, bear-like predator, it would have the classic stocky bovine build, and it could still have horns, too - there are plenty of horned predators in history, mainly reptiles, but also mammals! Take, for example, Pyrokerberus necrobotris, a mesonychid carnivore with horns, or to be more specific, ossicones.

enter image description here

Artwork by Hodari Nundu on Deviantart.

TL;DR: I think that having the bovines evolve into apex predators is the best solution. It's more plausible than it sounds.

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