UK researchers have shown for the first time that instead of fleeing randomly when faced with danger, sheep head straight for the center of the flock.
Understanding this behavior in healthy animals may help researchers understand the breakdown in social behaviours caused by neurological disorders in sheep, as well as those in humans, such as Huntington's disease.
The findings support a 40-year-old idea put forward by evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton. He suggested that creatures as different as insects, fish and cattle all react to danger by moving towards the middle of their respective swarms, schools or herds. "Scientists agree that flocking behavior has evolved in response to the risk of being attacked by predators.
The idea is that being part of a tight-knit group not only increases the chances that you might spot a predator, but decreases the chance that you are the one the predator goes for when it attacks," explains Dr. Andrew King from The Royal Veterinary College (RVC), lead author the study, published in Current Biology today.