Walruses in the Wild: From Feeding to Mating and Social Behaviors

  • By: Wildlife Blogging
  • Date: February 5, 2023
  • Time to read: 8 min.

Walruses in the Wild From Feeding to Mating and Social Behaviors

Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) are large marine mammals with a body size similar to seals but with distinct tusks and enlarged facial features such as long mustaches. They feed mainly on benthic organisms, such as clams and sea cucumbers, which they find using their high sense of smell.

Walruses aggregate in major haulout sights during the winter months for breeding and resting between dives for food, making them among the most extensively studied species in inter-individual interactions.

Walrus’ social behavior is complex and highly variable within and between populations. While most studies focus on the spectacular, large aggregations seen during the non-breeding season (e.g., at haulout sites of thousands; Fig strong bonds often form between natural groups within these vast aggregations, especially as males form temporary associations with females. Furthermore, an individual may change its ties and affiliations in different contexts or even shift its position within a group by joining larger or smaller associations according to differences in sex or age classes, distinguishing walruses from herds more commonly associated with other megafauna species such as elephants or bison.

Over time, the mix of walrus behaviors—including aggression and defense against aggression, gentleness, and affiliation — provides clues about how individuals assess risk when forming social bonds among unfamiliar conspecifics with varying survival; strategies, which differ over time and location as well as likely within gender classes.

Feeding Habits

Walruses are intelligent and powerful marine mammals that spend most of their lives munching on various delicious food items. This article will provide an overview of walruses’ feeding habits, ranging from their diets to how they hunt and forage for food. We will also discuss the difficulties they face in their search for sustenance.

Diet

According to their habitat, walruses eat several types of food, but their main diet consists mainly of bivalve mollusks (clams and other shellfish). They can dive up to 200 meters deep to feed on the ocean floor! Walruses also feed on crustaceans, starfish, snails, and sea cucumbers. Prey individuals up to 10 cm in size are mainly ingested whole or with a few bites. They also hunt for seabirds’ nests in shallow areas and take eggs or hatchlings.

Walruses feed in large groups of up to thousands of individuals. Feeding frenzies are initiated when prey is encountered as everyone dives into the water simultaneously, trying to catch as much food as possible. Often this method brings fascinating images when walrus herds circle schools of fish, chasing them until the prey is exhausted and can be quickly eaten by individual walruses.

On land, walrus’ diets can vary from:

  • Coastal plants such as mosses, lichens, and grasses.
  • Organically contaminated sediments around sewage outlets.
  • Bird eggs.
  • Seaweeds foraged from rocks exposed during low tide.

Foraging and Prey Acquisition

Foraging and prey acquisition in animals are behavior patterns that determine how they acquire, select and consume food. It is all an extensive part of an animal’s environmental exploration and adaptation. Most prey acquisition strategies involve either searching, ambushing, or some combination of both. Usually, smaller species, such as birds, rely heavily on searching during the day and ambushing after dark. Larger species, such as mammals, reptiles, and insects, utilize search and attack techniques to acquire prey when available.

Prey selection often plays a significant role in identifying optimal areas upon which to feed or live due to specific environmental conditions or minimal competition from other predators with similar feeding habits. Foraging techniques can include visually and audibly searching for prey over large distances or traveling from one area to another if necessary. Some larger mammals may participate in group activities such as herding smaller mammals like gazelles into an enclosed space where individual members hunt for the appropriate prey type amongst the herd. Moreover, many species also practice cooperative foraging activities to increase their chances of acquiring more food faster than usual.

Mating and Reproduction

Walruses mate and reproduce almost exclusively on the sea ice, providing them with a habitat and food source in springtime. Their mating behavior comprises males competing to gain access to a female.

  • Males will demonstrate dominance by making loud bellowing noises in addition to “fighting” by using their tusks to jostle and push each other.
  • Once successful in their advances, the males will begin to court the female by “briefly caressing her with his tusks” before mating.

Breeding Season

Mating and reproduction among animals vary widely and are closely linked to their environment. Seasonal changes can be dramatic, causing behavior shifts that facilitate mating. Animals may live in climates where there are distinct seasons (temperate climates), or the climate may remain relatively constant throughout the year (tropical climate).

In temperate climates, many animals experience a “breeding season” when food is more plentiful, thus allowing for greater resources devoted to rearing young. Breeding activity is closely related to day length as shorter days often signal longer nights and colder temperatures, which can reduce reproductive activity. A period of increased daylight initiates breeding behavior as hormones cause physiological changes that stimulate mating.

In tropical climates, breeding is generally not dependent on the season; however, slight variation in daylight throughout the year prevents other seasonal cues from influencing reproductive behavior. There may be some response to lunar cycles and altered patterns of rainfall as well as increased feeding opportunities related to seasonal resources and oceanic upwelling that play a role in orienting adults to potential mate selection areas.

Mating Rituals

Walruses have complex courtship rituals ranging from quiet, subtle behaviors to very loud and boisterous displays. Different strategies are used depending on the sex of the animals and their social hierarchy. Male walruses tend to be louder and more aggressive to demonstrate their strength and dominance, while females are generally quieter and more seductive.

Males typically perform a variety of vocalizations and body movements that are meant to attract females, such as head-rolling, jaw-gnashing, or “bulling” – walking around in slow circles with their heads thrown back and jaws wide open. The female must accept these behaviors for them to mate; if not, she will move away. During courtship, males may also present females with objects, such as shells or rocks they have collected, as a form of gift-giving behavior.

Once accepted by the female, the male mounts her in water or on land. A single copulation usually lasts between one and five minutes, after which the couple separates without any post-mating interaction. Mating usually occurs during summer months, but walruses tend to be somewhat flexible when it comes to timing due to their polygynous mating system – meaning males mate with multiple partners during any given season.

Social Behaviors

Walruses are highly social animals and live and interact with each other in several ways. From their feeding habits to mating and even their movements, in this section, we’ll take a closer look at the complex social behaviors of walruses in the wild.

Whether it’s huddling together for protection from predators or communicating with vocalizations, let’s dive into the fascinating social behaviors of walruses:

  • Feeding habits
  • Mating
  • Movements
  • Huddling together for protection
  • Communicating with vocalizations

Aggression

Walruses can be fairly aggressive animals, particularly males. During mating season, males fight for access to females, smashing tusks together in sparring battles. The larger dominant males with the biggest tusks usually win.

Aggression may also be seen during feeding when several animals try to claim territory around a food source or control its access. Conflicts may remain low-level but can involve physical contact as walruses shove each other away from the edge of a haul-out spot or favorite feeding ground. However, fights involving serious physical contact are rare and are generally limited to disputes over mating rights or territorial boundaries.

Walruses are very social creatures and generally work out their issues and disputes peacefully most of the time. When aggression does occur, it tends to be short-lived and ends quickly with one side backing down or swimming off in another direction.

Social Hierarchy

Walruses are highly sociable animals that live in large groups and display a wide range of behaviors within them. They adhere to strict social hierarchies, which limits physical conflicts between members of different dominant ranks. The dominant walruses pay the most attention to food sources, while the lower-ranking individuals feed on any leftovers. Working together for better foraging opportunities is also common among walrus colonies.

There is a clear hierarchy between adult males and females, with adult bulls being the predominant figure at the top. The male power balance can fluctuate based on injury or age; males will challenge each other to establish dominance over areas, particularly hauling grounds that provide access to food sources. Adult females tend to occupy their social tiers and show a less aggressive approach when vying for status within the group.

Younger walruses are dependent on adults of both sexes who teach them about feeding behavior, predator avoidance tactics, and how to find foraging habitats. Young female walruses form friendships with adults in their community and join various groups throughout their lifetimes as they travel from place to place in search of food sources, assuming different roles besides:

  • Loyal friend
  • Solitary independent traveler

Play

Walruses are highly social animals and can create close ties among members of their group. They demonstrate a range of playful activities, most often involving fighting and mating. Social play among walruses typically happens in shallow waters and on land, but they have also been known to play while swimming.

During play, walruses often make loud sounds as a means of communication with other walruses and as part of their playful interactions. These vocalizations can involve grunts, growls, snorts, and bellows echoing across the tundra.

Playful activities involve chases, mock fights, wrestling, and headbutting against other walruses or anything else around them, such as rocks or logs. These events may include more than just physical contact; they may also involve vocal exchanges between participating individuals in a kind of vocal duet that may help strengthen social bonds between the two parties.

Walrus fights usually involve individuals striking at each other with fists, teeth, or tusks while rolling on the ground with much noise but minor damage; rarely do these fights end in serious injury for either party involved. Playful behavior is considered an essential part of social interaction for this species as it allows them to test their strength and exercise their skills without causing too much harm to another group member.

Conclusion

Walruses move between their summer and winter habitats for different purposes. In the summer, walruses migrate to feed on benthic organisms and use shallow waters. In the winter, walruses use ice floes and sheltered areas to rest and build social connections.

Walruses are an integral part of the marine mammal ecosystem, but they face countless threats caused by human impacts, such as marine debris, climate change, and overhunting. Increasing public awareness of these threats is essential to ensure the continued survival of walrus populations in the wild. By understanding their behaviors, diet, and communication, we can continue to learn more about these enigmatic animals that scientists have overlooked for so long.

Walruses are notable species in our oceans – let’s ensure we do everything we can to protect them in their domains!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where do walruses live?

A: Walruses can be found in the Arctic Ocean and some sub-arctic seas, such as the Bering Sea and Okhotsk. They often live in large herds on sea ice or shore in coastal areas.

Q: What do walruses eat?

A: Walruses are omnivorous, meaning they eat plants and animals. They primarily feed on mollusks such as clams and snails, but they eat other marine life, such as crabs, shrimp, fish, and even birds.

Q: How do walruses mate?

A: Walruses typically mate in the summer months. During the mating season, male walruses will gather in large groups, or “hauls,” and use vocalizations to attract mates. Mating typically occurs in the water, and females will give birth to a single calf about a year later.

 

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