Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail

Why Do Animals Stop Moving and Freeze?

This morning I was walking into wind and surprised a deer. After a couple of quick hops away it then froze and stood motionless. This is where the video above starts.

Predators detect motion easily and prey animals can ‘disappear’ from view by staying totally still.

In this short film, we can see the deer even when it is still, but it is much easier to spot it when its moving.

Many predators have brains that are wired in a way that makes this effect more extreme, it’s as though the prey animal that stops moving and stays perfectly still has quite literally disappeared.

When birds, for example, are hunting for insects their brain often ceases to see the insect if it stops moving – it can hop straight past it on the ground. If the insect leaps or flies off the bird will spot it and eat it, but if it stays perfectly still then it is safer, even right under a bird’s beak.

Notice how the deer in this video only moves again when it senses that I too have started moving. At that moment the deer’s brain senses that the freezing tactic hasn’t worked, the danger is now more serious and it needs to switch to ‘flight’ behaviour.

This is one of the reasons that it is a bad idea to run away from large predators like big cats. If we do we make ourselves more visible and send the signal that we are prey.

In the video below, notice how the hare appears fairly well camouflaged… until it moves.

For more detail on this and other animal behaviour signs, please see the book Wild Signs & Star Paths (UK) / The Nature Instinct (North America and International).

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