While some species have a strong propensity for solitude, others prefer communal living, forming large and well-coordinated groups known as herds. Herd animals are a diverse group of animals that have developed unique social behaviors that revolve around living and interacting in a group. These behaviors give them many important advantages for their survival and how they affect the ecosystem.
This article will provide an overview of some animals known for their herding behavior, as well as information on how they form these groups within their respective species.
17 Herd animals
Grouping together in herds can offer many advantages to trying to make it through life alone. Here are some benefits to forming a herd:
- Increased protection from predators
- Better chance of finding food and water with group effort
- More opportunities for reproduction and mate finding
- Shared workload of caring for and protecting offspring
Scientific Name: Bison bison
In America, you can spot bison displaying herd behavior. These species are nomadic grazers that move in groups, with male bulls leaving female herds at 2-3 years and joining smaller male herds.
But they often meet again in late summer, mostly to mate. During this time, the male bulls will reunite with the female herd and fight with other bulls, making them restless, unpredictable, and dangerous.
Scientific Name: Cervus canadensis
The elk is a large deer species in North America and parts of Asia known for its social behavior. Adult males and females spend most of the year in separate herds, with females forming larger herds, and during the summer, groups can reach up to 400 individuals.
Bulls like to join small groups or travel alone, but young bulls prefer socializing with older bulls or joining female groups. Males also use bugling, a loud whistle-like call, during mating season, to establish dominance and attract mates. Elk migrate seasonally during the winter and prefer wooded areas due to the greater availability of food.
Scientific Name: Antilocapra americana
Pronghorns live in large herds that can number up to 1,000 during the fall and winter. Each herd has a different mix of sexes depending on the season. In winter, this species gathers in large herds, with males and females together.
However, when spring arrives, the herds separate, with young males forming bachelor groups, females forming harems, and adult males living alone. Additionally, these creatures are renowned for their exceptional speed, reaching up to 88.5 km/h, holding the record for the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.
Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana
The Elephants are one of the most social animals that are also known for their emotional intelligence. The females usually live in family groups under the leadership of the oldest female, known as the matriarch, and have complex relationships with one another.
She leads and protects the group, whereas male elephants, known as bulls, live separately and only join female groups during mating season. At around 14-15 years old, young males typically start spending more time with males outside their families, or even with other families.
Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus
White-tailed deer are known for their cautious nature as well as their quick agility. While the females of the species are always with their fawns, and you may even see some of them grazing together in herds of up to hundreds of animals, you will tend to see the males of the species alone. They have small home ranges, only about a kilometer square, and males will fight for mates by clashing their antlers against one another.
Scientific Name: Bos taurus
The Cows are another common species with herd behavior that’s typically seen on farms. These big domestic animals create social rankings based on age and gender.
Bulls become dominant over cows when they turn 2 years old, but older and male cows typically dominate females and young ones. These animals can recognize familiar individuals, so they may act differently around unfamiliar ones.
Scientific Name: Capra aegagrus hircus
The Goats are a domesticated subspecies of wild goats; they’re agile and curious creatures with a reputation for climbing and balancing. They establish dominance hierarchies, exhibit less herding behavior than sheep, and generally spread out while grazing.
They can also communicate with humans and have been discovered to have intelligence comparable to that of dogs. For them to thrive, it’s safe to keep 2 or 3 of them together because they’re animals that you shouldn’t raise alone.
Scientific Name: Bubalus bubalis
The Water buffaloes live mainly in Asian countries, but you can also find them in South and North America. These creatures gather together in tight-knit groups of 10 to 20 individuals, and occasionally even up to 100. The domesticated water buffalo is an important animal on many farms, in part for their ability to aid in tilling rice fields and their abundance of milk.
Scientific Name: Giraffa camelopardalis
Giraffes are easily recognized by their long necks, long legs, and spotted coats. These tallest land animals reside in savannahs and woodlands of Africa, where you may see them form groups.
Depending on many factors, the size of these groups can change over time. Giraffe groups usually consist of mothers and their young, while males become solitary as they mature.
Scientific Name: Connochaetes taurinus
Wildebeest are a type of antelope native to Africa’s Eastern and Southern regions. These animals are plentiful and often participate in seasonal migrations, grazing in mixed herds with zebras to heighten their awareness of potential predators.
However, Ngorongoro and Maasai Mara game reserves also have non-migratory species. A herd consists of at least 1,000 individuals who are very protective of their territory.
Scientific Name: Rangifer tarandus
Caribou, also known as reindeer, are one of the herd animals you might encounter in North America’s Arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountain regions. Herd sizes vary from place to place, but can grow huge from 50,000 to over 100,000.
During the mating season, females of this species actively seek a safe place away from predators to give birth, prompting males to follow them during their seasonal migrations. During the spring migration, smaller herds will join to form large herds. However, during the autumn migration, the herds become smaller as the reindeer begin to mate.
Scientific Name: Equus quagga
If you’ve ever been to Africa, zebras are likely to be among the most recognizable animals you encounter there. Since lions frequently prey on these grazers, their herd behavior enables them to defend themselves from predators.
While some species prefer to join large groups and mate with the females that enter them, others prefer to form family groups made up of one stallion, several mares, and their offspring.
13. Bighorn sheep
Scientific Name: Ovis canadensis
The bighorn sheep, which form large herds of more than 100 individuals, are one of the native species in North America that are renowned for their large horns. Unlike their ancestors, these creatures aren’t strict regarding dominance.
However, during mating season, females can observe males fighting for their attention and may even witness damage caused by repeated clashes. Females are the ones who tend to fight for social status when they’re integrated into the hierarchy.
Scientific Name: Ovibos moschatus
Muskoxen are animals that have thick coats, and they get their name from the musky odor that males release to attract females during mating season. Without territories, they gather in herds of 12–24 in the winter and 8–20 in the summer, and they use their preorbital glands to mark their trails.
They group themselves based on age, giving older ones more power, especially when it comes to getting the best resources. Additionally, they cooperate to defend the calves when they’re in danger by forming a semi-circle with the bulls in the lead and prepared to fight.
Scientific Name: Lama glama
Llamas, native to South America, are domesticated camelids valued for their adaptability to diverse terrains and tasks. These herbivores primarily graze on grass and vegetation, thriving in high altitudes. Llamas are recognized by their slender bodies, long necks, and shaggy coats, often found in various colors.
Their herding behavior stems from their natural inclination to live in social groups, enhancing protection against predators and assisting with the sharing of resources in challenging environments.
Scientific Name: Taurotragus oryx
Elands, native to Africa, are herbivorous mammals known for their large size and distinctive spiral-shaped horns. These resilient creatures are found in savannahs and woodlands across the continent. Elands graze on a diet primarily composed of grasses and vegetation.
They boast a reddish-brown coat with faint vertical stripes, and their impressive horns can reach considerable lengths. Elands are notable for their vocalizations, producing deep, resonant sounds that carry across long distances. They herd for increased protection against predators, as well as to optimize their foraging efficiency in the open landscapes they inhabit.
Scientific Name: Antidorcas marsupialis
The Springboks, native to the arid regions of Southern Africa, are renowned for their distinctive behavior and features. These small antelopes predominantly graze on grasses and desert vegetation. They are recognized by a sandy brown coat, with a striking white face, underbelly, and a reddish-brown dorsal stripe.
Springboks are famous for their impressive leaping ability, known as “pronking,” where they perform high, arching jumps when alarmed or excited. Herding among springboks enhances their chances of spotting predators in the vast open landscapes they inhabit.
“Why do animals do what they do? Part 2: A herd is good”, M. Elischer, Michigan State University Extension, March 31, 2015, canr.msu.edu