Three dingoes.

Dingoes are the largest predatory mammals in the Australian bush.

Image: CSIRO

Dogs chase cats – it’s one of the facts of life. However, what seems to be true in the backyard might not be the case in the Australian bush.

Dingoes are wild dogs that have lived in Australia for several thousand years, while cats are much more recent. Since their introduction, feral cats have caused significant damage to the Australian environment. Cats have only lived in Australia for a few hundred years so many native species haven’t adapted strategies to avoid cats. This makes the native species easy prey.

Both feral cats and dingoes are predators, however, dingoes are larger than cats. This means the dingoes can eat prey, such as wallabies, that are too big for cats. Because of this, dingoes are considered to be apex predators, while cats are not. Apex predators sit at the top of the food chain.

Apex predators can control the numbers not just of prey species, but other predators. This can be because they kill or eat other predators, or because they out compete lesser predators for prey. In Australia, there is evidence that higher number of dingoes leads to a reduction in the number of feral cats.

Researchers recently set up cameras to monitor feral cat and dingo behaviour in the Taunton National Park in Queensland. They found that cats and dingoes were often active in the same areas. In other words, it didn’t appear as if the cats were put off by the presence of dingoes in an area.

One theory is that the presence of dense vegetation means that the smaller cats can hide from the dingoes. This is supported by another study from Cape York in northern Queensland which found that more complex habitats allowed feral cats to coexist with dingoes.

While dingoes restrict the access of feral cats to prey, these studies show that the relationship between the two predators is more complex than the dogs simply chasing away the cats.

If you’re after more science news for kids, subscribe to Double Helix magazine!

Subscribe now! button

3 responses

  1. Austin Pet Sitter Avatar
    Austin Pet Sitter

    That’s crazy! Part of me wishes the Dingo would get rid of the feral cats due to how detrimental they are to the environment, but none the less it is very interesting that they hunt in the same areas!

  2. John Attard Avatar
    John Attard

    It would be interesting to know if they are seeing them and leaving them alone (too difficult to catch?), attempting chase, or is it just evasion?

    1. David Avatar

      There’s something special about being the cat’s owner – they tried the same experiment with a strange person’s voice and the cats weren’t surprised. They also weren’t too surprised when a strange cat’s meow teleported across the room. So it’s probably not hunting or hiding – it’s something else.

      If you want to learn more about the experiment, the paper is here:
      As always with scientific papers, they can be hard to read. But if you scroll down to the general discussion section, you can get a good idea of what the scientists concluded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By submitting this form, you give CSIRO permission to publish your comments on our websites. Please make sure the comments are your own. For more information please see our terms and conditions.

Why choose the Double Helix magazine for your students?

Perfect for ages 8 – 14

Developed by experienced editors

Engaging and motivating

*84% of readers are more interested in science

Engaging students voice