This is a very closely related question to my previous: Evolution of tree-dwelling species that will help predators find prey if prey species doesn't give it a bribe?

The premise is the same, a tree-based creature that blackmails a species on the ground into feeding it, in fact there is a good chance that this creature may blackmail non-prey creatures as described in the above question.

However, in this question I'm shifting slightly to the idea of a bit more direct blackmail, specifically a threat of killing/eating a creature if it doesn't feed you; but preferring blackmail over killing the land creature because of the risk attacking the land-creature being high enough that 'safe' meal through blackmail is preferable to attempting to kill it.

I could use this idea for any number of creatures, but most likely I would be a variant of my griffins, which I sort of fell in love with after answering the question. The answer is very long, but the relevant parts are that griffins live in trees but mostly hunt land-based creatures. Any attack on ground-based creatures is dangerous due to how small/fragile individuals griffins are compared to prey and the presence of land-based predators that kill griffins on the ground. The griffins compensate for this by choosing their targets carefully and only attacking when they can ensure they safest kill. The also spread out the 'pack' over a large region to search for the perfect prey to attack and when found spotters flush the prey to a killzone by visually positioning themselves to attack so that they prey needs to run to avoid the 'spotters' from killing it.

The tribe would prefer to secure a kill so it brings back enough food to spread across the entire tribe, including non-hunters; and the best hunters prefer making kills as it helps to secure matings by showing off his fitness. However, the 'spotters', especially the younger males who aren't ready yet to land kills themselves, may prefer a single larger meal for themselves via blackmail over sharing a small part of a tribes kill. I was thinking the smaller spotters may appear and 'threaten' to call the rest of the tribe to hunt a land-creature that just made a kill but accept a bribe of meat from the kill to not call in the rest of the pack.

This is mostly to get a large meal for 'free', but also because spotters are expected to attempt a kill if the prey refuses to be scared/flushed to the kill zone, and for young griffins this can be very dangerous and thus something they prefer to avoid the chance of being forced to try if the prey doesn't let itself be flushed.

The blackmailing Griffin would likely expect the food to be passed up to them to some degree, as Griffins avoid going to ground level whenever possible for safety.

I want this to be a behavior passed down across generation, either evolved instinct or taught by parents but not something that requires human level intellect, Both species should habitually understand their role as soon as one decides to blackmail. Gryphons will be at least as smart as monkeys, it's the land-based creatures I'm mostly worried about, how do they gain a habitual understanding of this?

Unlike in the last question I imagine blackmail would be less common, only young males who are in particular need of food, are less loyal to the tribe as a whole, and think they can get away with it will be trying this. As such it seems a little harder for land-based creatures to develop a habitual response since the interactions are not as common and because they now have to learn two responses, what to do when Griffins are hunting them for real and what to do when one is threatening to hunt, causing a more nuanced habitual response that's harder to develop (when/how did the land creature learn there are times when it shouldn't just run?)

How could the creature have developed this habitual response and can it be maintained? Can it be maintained even in the face of of griffins occasionally making empty threats in hopes of bluffing its way to a free meal even if the spotter doesn't plan to call the hunt on the land based creature (because the spotter knows that this creature wouldn't provide enough meat to warrant the risk of a hunt to the tribe right now).

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    $\begingroup$ Sorry for off topic, this is one of the most fascinating things I've read up to date on this forum. What do you plan to make with this? Is this a book? A video game? I can't think of a medium. Just to post something vaguely related to the topic: I don't know if this is just Disney and journalists talking bs, but isn't that who stuff is done in Africa at the watering holes? I kill you if you don't let me drink first? $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    May 15, 2017 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ Technically we do this with the animals we farm for eggs and dairy. When they are no longer able to provide us with food we slaughter them for meat. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 15, 2017 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ I think I understand - from my point of view of course. Instead of the magical beasts, e.g. Harry Potter, where animals are highly developed species that interact with humans and possess human trades as being "noble" or "vicious" or something, you try to go about it (semi-)scientifically? I think the idea of a highly specialized but at the same time almost human-level intelligent species more interesting the more I think about it. The concept alone seems unlikely, but I like hard riddles like that. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    May 15, 2017 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to nitpick, but "threaten[ing] to kill/eat prey unless prey feeds it" is surely extortion, not blackmail. Fascinating question! $\endgroup$
    – Dacio
    May 15, 2017 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of Maxim 21: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Take his fish away and tell him he's lucky just to be alive, and he'll figure out how to catch another one for you to take tomorrow." $\endgroup$ May 16, 2017 at 11:57

7 Answers 7


Cuckoos and their mafia tactics

If a magpie rejects a cuckoo egg laid in its nests, the cuckoo promptly returns to destroy the magpie’s own eggs or kill its chicks.

It goes downhill from there:

Not to be outdone, American cowbirds, which are not related to cuckoos, employ an even more forceful racket against warblers. “The cowbird has much more sophisticated predatory behaviours than we thought,” says Jeff Hoover at the Illinois Natural History Survey in Champaign, US, who has been monitoring brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) for four years in the swamps of the Cache River in southern Illinois.

Swift retaliation

Wild warblers are very compliant with cowbirds, and are not known to recognise and eject cowbird eggs. But Hoover and Robinson wanted to find out what would happen if they did. To mimic this situation, they provided artificial nests for 180 pairs of prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea), waited for the cowbirds to cuckold them, then selectively removed the cowbird eggs.

The cowbirds soon retaliated, returning to the nest to eat or destroy the remaining warbler eggs. What is more, warblers that had laid too early for the cowbirds to cuckold them suffered retribution too. Cowbirds would routinely eat or trash these more developed eggs to force the warblers to rebuild the nest elsewhere.

There are a selection of cooperative tactics, but also straight up trickery. Drongos in the Kalahari mimic the alarm calls of other species in order to steal food, scientists have found.

The birds "play tricks" on meerkats in particular, following the little mammals around until they catch a meal.

The drongos then make fake alarm calls that mimic other species and cause the meerkats to run for cover, allowing the drongos to swoop in.

For your situation you're asking a top predator to share a kill. That's not an easy thing to do. I'd suggest considering the education of each target as an individual, as per the cuckoos and cowbirds above. The gryphon comes down to share the kill if not passed some. Should the target not willingly share, then the gryphon calls in the pack to take the whole kill.

However: Passing a share of the kill upwards is nigh on impossible for most ground based predators, they do not have the capability to divide an animal, only to tear off mouthfuls to eat. A pack of hunters might have the ability to divide a kill but would be a much tougher target for even the whole pack of gryphons to take on.

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    $\begingroup$ Cowbirds sound like jerks. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    May 15, 2017 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ Drongos were my first thought - I love their tricks; 1) when there is danger, use your own alarm call. Meerkats run for cover and are saved. 2) make false alarm call, Meerkats run, steal food. 3) repeat. 4) when Meerkats grow wise, mimic Meerkat alarm call, steal food. 5) repeat. 6) when Meerkats grow wise, go find food yourself or other Meerkats. 7) come back later and repeat all. - brilliant! $\endgroup$
    – Baldrickk
    May 15, 2017 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer. If the gryhpon has the power to follow through on the threat, then the victim isn't the top predator. $\endgroup$
    – Dacio
    May 15, 2017 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Dacio a lone lion may be driven off a kill by a group of hyenas, but hyenas would be driven off by a group of lions. When it comes to who at the top it's all power games $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    May 15, 2017 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix "quantity has a quality all its own" - Stalin $\endgroup$ May 15, 2017 at 23:38

This premise of vengeful punishment reminds me of the honeyguide bird. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_honeyguide.

The tradition of the Bushmen and most other tribes says that the honeyguide must be thanked with a gift of honey; if not, it may lead its follower to a lion, bull elephant, or venomous snake as punishment. However, “others maintain that honeycomb spoils the bird, and leave it to find its own bits of comb”.[5]

This happens in a picture book by Jan Brett called Honey Honey Lion. The honeybadger does not share, and so is led to a lion. From janbrett.com enter image description here

Another real life instance of a flying / tree animal calling in predators is the raven - wolf interaction. from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/dinner-guests-how-wolves-and-ravens-coexist-at-kills/ although I found the big image here enter image description here

Ravens definitely eat at wolf kills and like to hang around wolves. Ravens have been witnessed stalking a sick or wounded animal and loudly calling, purportedly to bring the wolves. And it makes sense - ravens are smart, they know the animal is meat for them, they can't kill it themselves and they know the wolves can, and they know the wolves will put up with them when they come eat.

In a situation where there are other big predators (maybe 15,000 years ago in N. America when there were still cave lions and sabertooth cats) I could see the ravens showing up at a kill and then calling in their friends the wolves if the cats did not offer them seats at the table. from a mural at the San Diego Natural History Museum enter image description here

Those other wolves need to step up, already!

Back to the honeyguide's semi-apocryphal situation: the bird is motivated by vengeance, much like the griffins described here. When the lion or cobra gets involved there is no guarantee at all that the griffin or honeyguide gets a meal. The ravens are different and a very plausible analogy for the griffins. Ravens are allied with wolves whom they can count on to let them eat and plus wolves are fun to annoy. But when the wolves show up they eat a lot, and it is work to go find them - so if ravens can get the nonwolf to see reason and share there is more meat for the ravens.


I recall seeing (on a TV science show) species of birds — one would prey on the eggs of the other. If the second didn’t allow it, then the first would wreck the entire clutch.

Look at birds that get other animals to harvest honey, expecting a cut for having led them to it.

Complex behavior certainly does occur in real world animals, including contracts between species. You might try finding more examples of that to study.

As for bluffers, I think there will be a natural equilibrium point where a certain percentage of that occurs. The ground species will become smart enough to do its own assessment to detect bluffing, and the preditor will have ways of escalating prior to a lethal attack.


There might be a way:

omnivore griffins.

Why omnivore and not carnivore? Here is the thing: hunting is a dangerous process. And a lot of animals just can't hunt. But a lot of animals can find fruits, roots or other veggies.

Gruffy and the Piglet

So our young and intrepid griffin Gruffy if looking for some food. He circles overhead and sees a swine with piglets rooting around. Now Gruffy can take a piglet, but if it goes wrong he has to deal with mummy swine.

Mummy swine sees a griffin circling overhead. While she knows the can probably take it on herself, her lovely piglets cannot. So she sniffs around, and notices that she is in luck today: there are some carrots / buried melons / other tasty (for a griffin) things to dig up. So she starts to dig, and fast, as the griffin is getting closer.

Gruffy sees the digging frenzy of the biggest of the swine, and decides that circling around is a good idea to see what turns up.

Once mummy swine has dug up the tasties, the takes her litter of piglets with her some save distance away. What can be hard, as the little ones smell the tastiness just dug up. The most incurable ignorant one decides, "screw it, this is tasty!" And digs in.

Gruffy, of course, cannot let this happen. While mother swine sounds her warnings. He dives to the just dug up tasties, with the ignorant piglet. The piglet is not paying attention to anything besides the lovely tastes, and so dies at the claws of Gruffy.

All other swine look in terror how the little one is slain. But there are 11 more piglets where that came from, and that was the ignorant one. Lesson leant by all involved.

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    $\begingroup$ Would love to see something like this happen, Also,this would be a great children's book for all those ignorant kids. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew Ng
    Dec 15, 2017 at 2:27

Ants do something very similar, they run a protection racket.

Ants protect aphids and let them to stay around. In return the aphids allow themselves to be "milked" by the ants.

This phenomenon is pretty common in nature in one way or another - especially with regard to parasites. You could even argue that some viruses do it. They infect an animal and then threaten the host with choking unless they cough and pass on the virus to others.


I think you are going about this the wrong way. Look at this as a carrot and stick issue. A dog is friendly if you feed it, but will be defensive if hit.

Your creatures are offering a stick with very little to enforce it happening.

I suggest you off a carrot with the stick, "feed me and you'll be rewarded, if not you will pay".

These rewards could be food (typical for research projects with pigeons), or it could be drugs (typical for humans).

This relationship should be parasitic in nature, as your creatures are hunters. an interesting case would be the Oxpecker, which feeds on parasites for the host, but also harms it by creating open wounds.

I suggest your creatures give their subjects something like alcohol after they are fed, then can get an easier kill if still hungry as their subject would be slightly intoxicated.


There is an episode of Thundercats that goes into this scenario for the Berbils S1E3.


... They soon learn that the Berbils are being frequently attacked by the Trolligs[11] who steal their fruit to give to the Giantorrs.[12] ...

Trolligs - A race of Bulldog-faced creatures who frequently raid the Berbil village to steal their fruit.

Giantorrs - A race of giants who live on top of the Trollig's mountain where the trollberry bushes grow. They refuse to let the Trolligs eat the leaves off those bushes unless they bring them Ro-Bear Berbil fruit. After the ThunderCats drive the Trolligs and Giantorrs off, the Berbils become their allies and offer to help them build their new home.

It doesn't go into how they got into the state, but it was basically "we are slaves because of this society structure" and then they get freed from it by the good guys.

So a good-natured species gets abused by a dominant species and creates a parasitic/hostile relationship.

On a slightly related note, the end of the episode, the Berbils offer their services to Liono and their group and build them a fortress... Trading one kind of oppressive slavery for voluntary/indentured servitude.

Hope that helps.


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