• Question: If animals that hunt for food got hand fed could they evolve into something else?

    Asked by fanta02 to Alex, Claire, Kate, Marcus, Neil on 23 Jun 2014.
    • Photo: Marcus Johns

      Marcus Johns answered on 23 Jun 2014:

      Many types of the dogs that people own today have evolved over time from animals that hunted for food to the ones that we know today. This has taken many generations of breeding the animal to change them – it doesn’t happen over night!

      There was an experiment in Russia where they took either a group of wild foxes or wolves – can’t remember which off the top of my head – and bread them such that only the tamest animals would have puppies. This led to an animal that was completely different from the original wild animal – they had shorter snouts and curlier tails, and didn’t try to attack humans!

      There was also one where people hand-reared a lion cub and the animal was more tame than a wild lion but still acted like a lion. Maybe if you had 10 or more generations of tame lions, you might end up with an animal that was no longer a hunter and could be let loose in the garden, but I wouldn’t want to find out!

    • Photo: Kate Niehaus

      Kate Niehaus answered on 23 Jun 2014:

      Yes, the animal species over time could evolve slowly into a different species if they start living in a different environment where they are fed rather than hunting for food – all species are constantly evolving to adapt to their environment! This wouldn’t happen in one generation, though. What would most likely happen is that if the animals have an easy food source available, their old traits that helped them survive when they needed to hunt (like speed or a certain jaw shape or something else) will no longer be as important, so these traits might slowly shift over time.

    • Photo: Alex Lyness

      Alex Lyness answered on 23 Jun 2014:

      Hey fanta02,

      Yep, they certainly can. Ultimately we are all just ‘hand fed’ apes by comparison to our ancestors!

      Behaviours do eventually change. We have evolved to have less hair (as we now live in the warm houses), walk upright on two legs (not climb trees) and have sharper teeth (to eat meat not plants). These are all examples of evolution changing us as our feeding habits change overtime.

      What is really curious is how somethings don’t quite evolve for the better. Humans have an appendix and scientists think it used to help us digest plants and tough bark when we lived in trees. It’s totally useless to our diets now and we are all still born with an appendix. The only time most people hear of it is when they [or someone in their family gets] appendicitis and have it taken out.

      Final thing, as with everything in evolution takes time and lots of generations to have an effect. The only time we can see evolution happening with our own eyes is when tests are done on animals (or plants) that generally are quicker to breed, which is why some observation can be seen in wolves/foxes.

      Hope that helps 🙂

      P.S. Don’t forget that we’re just hand-fed hairless apes!

    • Photo: Claire Brockett

      Claire Brockett answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      Hi fanta02
      As the others have said – there’s a lot of evidence to show behavioural changes in animals when they’re reared/hand fed – and you just need to think about animals bred in captivity that are unable to go back into the wild to realise that the environment animals (and indeed, humas) live in has a big effect on behaviour.
      As has been said, evolution is a very slow process, so there would need to be sustained changes over generations to cause animals to evolve.