Wildlife Informer is reader-supported. When you click and buy we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

What is a Herd? (Explained With Examples)

In the wild, every species possesses its unique strategy for survival, and certain creatures thrive and navigate their surroundings by forming cohesive units known as herds, while others prefer a solitary existence. Some of you may be wondering, “What is a herd, and how do its members benefit from each other?” 

This article aims to provide a more in-depth exploration of this specific animal behavior to increase your understanding of them. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Animals who exhibit herd behavior stick together to increase their chances of survival.
  • Social animals benefit from better access to resources, mate opportunities, and safety when in a herd.
  • Even though they have benefits, they can also have certain downsides, like competition for resources and mates and easy disease transmission. 

What is a herd?

Herds are large, social groups of animals of the same species. This natural survival strategy provides numerous advantages for both the individual animals and the group as a whole.

These animals benefit from this collective behavior as it provides them with safety, facilitates the sharing of resources, and promotes social interactions among them. 

What is herd behavior in animals?

Blue wildebeest herd
Blue wildebeest herd | image by Thomson Safaris Tanzania Safaris and Kili Treks via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Animals display a social behavior wherein they form groups, known as herds, both in the wild and in domestic settings. Behavioral ecologists widely use the term “herd” to refer to these groupings, although some groups of each species may use different terms. 

Individuals of the same species frequently gather together for many reasons, primarily driven by the benefits they receive from sticking to being close to one another. These advantages include many factors, including better protection, increased safety, and greater productivity in locating and accessing food and water. 

Why do animals live in herds?

1. Safer in groups

Animals engage in herding behavior primarily to protect themselves against predators. Most predators in the wild actively seek out easier prey, which means that animals who are together are less likely to be targeted compared to those who are frequently seen alone.

This phenomenon, known as the “dilution effect,” makes it difficult for the predator to choose which member of a larger group to attack. With many eyes on the lookout, a herd also increases the chances of detecting predators early, allowing members to flee or defend themselves.

2. Efficiently finding resources

Caribou herd
Caribou herd | image by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service via Flickr

Herds benefit from the knowledge of their members as a whole. If an individual finds a good place to eat or drink, others will soon follow, and the community will make good use of its resources.

3. Social bonding

Herds frequently establish hierarchical structures, which in turn create numerous opportunities for social bonding and learning to take place among the members. Young animals can learn from older, experienced members of the group, who will also pass down their knowledge to the younger ones as they grow older.

4. Access to mating opportunities 

The presence of numerous individuals, including both males and females, within the herds facilitates easy access to potential mates. 

You may also like:  Is Coral a Plant or Animal?

Disadvantages of animals living in herds

While being in a herd offers numerous advantages, it’s important to understand that there are also certain disadvantages associated with this collaborative existence.

1. Competition for Resources

Herd of horses
Herd of horses | image by Julia Rubinic via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

In a group, individuals may compete for limited resources such as food, water, and shelter. If the whole herd has only a few resources available, the dominant individuals will likely gain greater access to these resources, potentially leaving those below them with less sustenance.

2. Disease Transmission

Animals in the wild often face the risk of being exposed to various illnesses and diseases. Being near one another creates an environment where diseases can easily spread within the group. When a group member contracts an illness, they can easily transmit it to others because of their frequent interactions and shared environment.

3. Mating competition

Within herds, animals fiercely compete for mating opportunities. Subordinates typically have fewer opportunities to reproduce successfully because dominant individuals mostly have easier access to partners.

Flock vs. herd

Collage image of birds and horses
Sandpiper flocks (left) Horse herd (Right)

Most social animals that live in groups actually benefit one another. However, some people may need clarification about what to call these groups: flocks or herds.

Although certain animals like sheep may also use the term “flocks”, it’s mostly associated with birds forming strong social bonds. During migration, these avian species experience numerous advantages in being in groups that help them conserve energy and enhance their navigation abilities. 

On the other hand, herding is typically used for large mammals with hooves, like bison, zebras, and giraffes. These animals take part in these behaviors to defend themselves and their fellow group members against potential threats from predators, thereby increasing their chances of survival. 

Final Thoughts

Herding is a good example of how nature has come up with clever ways to adapt to survive. For a long time, this strategy has saved the lives of many different kinds of prey animals, including some that are especially defenseless against many predators. 

Sources:

  • “The Disadvantages of Animals Living in Groups,” D. Watson, Sciencing, Updated: March 13, 2018, sciencing.com
  • “Survival by the Numbers,” G. Turbak, The National Wildlife Federation, October 01, 1993, nwf.org