Humans as Ambush Predators

Homo sapiens and many of our ancestors practiced a form of hunting known as persistence hunting where we just walk after an animal till it keels over dead from exhaustion. Alternatively, there is ambush predation where the hunter attacks prey from a concealed location or sneaks up on prey. Granted, humans are capable of both types of predation but are morphologically best adapted to the former.

So, let's say that evolution went a different way. Instead of humans as pursuit predators, humans turned into ambush predators. How are they morphologically different than their pursuit predation cousins?

Requirements: Homo pouncus must still be a tool user and tool maker. Physical appearance can be whatever best facilitates ambush predation. The common ancestor between homo pouncus and homo sapiens is australopithecus africanus.

Scope: This question is limited to only physiological differences between a pursuit predator human and an ambush predator human. How this human may have evolved or how their psychology might differ our own are both outside the scope of this question.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The only differences necessary are situational ones. If "walking after an animal till it keels over dead from exhaustion" is not possible, then those humans will change tactics. Humans do not need to become stronger, faster, etc. for this to be true. Remember, we used to scare herds into running off of cliffs, and ambushes are commonly practiced when hunting the most dangerous animal of all: other humans (a common military tactic). $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ Question is, the reason we are good at all these things is intelligence. Humans adapted to pursuit predation before we became such big brained freaks. Personally, I don't think we COULD have developed into ambush predators at that stage - without the smarts to make weapons we don't have the natural weaponry to pull off quick kills. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ The OP confused Persistent Hunting with Pursuit predation. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistence_hunting And hunting and predation isn't the same either. $\endgroup$
    – Bloc97
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 15:49

3 Answers 3


I don't believe there would be a difference. Humans are highly adaptable. Ambush predation is something that we already can do. As AndreiROM pointed out in the comments we've been using this technique to hunt each other, specifically in guerilla warfare.

I believe that this is less a physical adaptation and more a strategic adaptation. If you mean laying in wait for prey and quickly striking, yes, we already do that--and hunters have for a long time, simply by making an area attractive to prey or waiting in an area that is attractive to prey. This is something we already do.

Turkey hunters use camouflage and stealth more than they use pursuit predation, as do deer hunters (who use deer stands and salt licks). This is simply the modern version of what humans already have done for centuries. We also use pursuit predation, but we have been using ambush predation at least as long as the other.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is right. Humans never used exclusively pursuit predation for their calories, even if they have some evolutionary traits that advantage them in that context (i.e. stamina, and ability to sweat). Humans are on top because they any do anything that another species can do: pursue, ambush, fish, dig up roots, climb trees for fruit, etc. We have so many options for feeding ourselves, as opposed to a true pursuit predator, like a wolf or a cheetah. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 15:34

Easy: the fixed/fused mid-tarsal arch. The fixed arch shape to our feet is the secret sauce to our hyper-efficient endurance running and predation. If the mid-tarsal joint were flexible and our heel bone extended, and our bone thickness/muscle quality closer to that of a Neanderthal/primate, the average 'person' could smoke Usain Bolt because of the extra lever action of the foot and calf... however, they wouldn't be able to do it for very long. Consequently, its much better suited to rough terrain. Your whole foot can 'grip' the ground like your hand can grip. (Imagine if your whole foot could curl forward and grip stuff from the pointed top of the arch of your foot!)

I mentioned muscle quality before... the whole fast/slow twitch muscle ratio would be different. We'd have less endurance oriented slow twitch mass and more speed/power optimized muscle mass.

Eyesight would still be binocular, but if we're going to be ambushing things, it makes more sense to do that at night. I imagine our senses would remain keener as well, since we would be relying on close-quarters assessment and rapid engagement of prey.


The concept is quite broad, so I will try and go on with some of the very many possibilities. Considering that the sister sideline had branches off so far back as Australopithecus, it would mean that sophisticated hunting tools like bows and arrows, blowpipes and atlatls are completely out of question. Those people could use simple stone-tipped spears or clubs, but anything beyond that would be highly unlikely.

  • The posture would probably be generally more crouching than straight. This would help in staying undetected while stalking the prey. Crouching posture has some thorough implications about the skull-backbone joint position and face structure. I will not go into the details here as it would make the answer too lengthy.

  • The legs would be shorter, but more stockier. Most ambush predators have this type of leg structure which is highly suitable for short speed bursts but not very good for long marathons. The best example is a comparison between ancient sabretooth cat lineages and modern cheetahs. Their leg bones were shorter but sported really thick set muscles, highly suitable for quick, lethal chases. The modern cheetah has longer and more slender legs, suited for long runs in open plains.

  • Also considering that the Australopithecines were not notable masters of wielding tools, the hand structure of your humanoids would be different from our hands in that their hands would not have opposable thumbs. At least not to the degree of our thumbs. They would be able to hold things, but precision grip would not be their thing.

  • If the humanoids were not as social as primitive homo genera, the canines would probably be longer and more prominent than our or neanderthal canines. These would be uses more commonly for power and aggression display between males, instead of actually using those teeth to bite down on prey to kill it.

  • An interesting scenario could be if your humanoids pounce on their prey from tree branches, instead of chasing them for short distances on the ground. In this case, the arms would be longer than the legs (for swinging between the branches). Also, their heights would be restricted to no more than 3-4 feet at most, as tall heights make it increasingly harder to move in the canopy of trees.


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