Welcome to Friday Fiction Facts: sciency things that fiction writers need to know.
Here’s your scene: Your main character is alone in a northern Canadian forest. Gun at the ready, he is alert, walking slowly, taking in the details of the darkening woods. He hears a snap and swings his gun around. But before he can react, there is a deafening roar. A bear! The man steps backward, catches his foot on a log, and sprawls onto his back. The angry bear is over him now. She roars again, her breath hot on his face ..
Ok, we all know that scene. Giant predator roars in the face of its prey.
We saw it in Jurassic Park:
And Backcountry (at 3:00)
Even in Harry Potter (at :37)
And Disney (at :30)
And in every movie that ever starred, Bart the Bear.
So that brings up a question posed on Twitter recently.
Naturalists: Do any animals, rather than attack, stay in place and roar at their prey? Asking for a screenwriter friend.
— Dan "It's November" Turner (@ddt) March 27, 2016
Let’s take look at predator vocalizations.
Some predators vocalize at the moment of attack. People who have been attacked by tigers report hearing a roar or growl during the animal’s final approach.
“All of a sudden I heard a roar and a growl, and the tiger was heading toward us at full speed..” — The Independent
At that moment, from out of nowhere, a tiger flew at him. “Its roar was so loud it was like a thunder to me…” —BBC
A predator may snarl if it feels threatened or if it’s trying to scare you away. That often takes the form of a defensive “bluff” vocalization and charge. For instance, see this lion at the 3:00 minute mark. A lot of snarling and huffing but no roar. –
(Gotta love that “Don’t run, don’t run” from the guide.)
A predator may growl during a fight. It may roar to proclaim dominance or to ward off rivals of the same species. It might howl or yip to keep contact with group members. It might cry out when it’s injured or in distress.
But when a predator hunts, it is deadly quiet – by necessity.
A predatory bear usually stalks its prey and attacks from behind. It is often silent and the bear does not exhibit any defensive behaviors like huffing or slapping the ground. — Bearsmart – Dispelling Myths
Because if you are a predator hunting for food, why would you want to scare away your prey? And why, once you have it, would you yell in its face?
@katecaldwell @annegalloway & some prey do that at predators. but roaring at prey is a really stupid predatory tactic.
— Katie Hinde (@Mammals_Suck) March 27, 2016
There are a surprising number of videos of predators stalking and/or attacking humans on Youtube – black bears and grizzlies, polar bears, cougars, tigers, leopards, alligators, and more.
I’ll spare you the gory links here, but having watched several dozen, I can tell you, no animal ever loudly announced its presence before attacking and no animal ever stood over its prey and roared in its face.
But, caving to Hollywood expectations I suppose, one person added growling and a wildcat scream to a video of a cougar stalking a hiker. The uploader’s comment:
When I added the sound to the beginning and the end of the video, I also added the giant cat’s noise, and I also added some freeze feature when the mountain lion were walking toward Chris, just hoping you can really feel the scary situation. ^_^
I guess she, like all the movie-makers, didn’t think having a 100 lb cat stalking a man on foot was scary situation enough. Sound effects at 2:41 here.
Finally, before I close, I want to say one thing about the videos of circus animals attacking trainers. Many of these do show the animals roaring and growling as they attack and fend off their handlers. But remember, these are captive, highly stressed animals. They live in a perpetual state of fear and do not reflect the behavior of normal animals.
So the takeaway here is, leave the cinematic roars out of your stories.
I’ll close with kudos to The Revenant for getting it right.
It isn’t just vocalizations by predators that are incorrect. How often do you see/hear horses on TV or in movies whinnying while galloping at full speed? Those sound effects are added. In real life, horses generally vocalize only while stationary or walking/trotting slowly. Galloping all-out takes a lot of breath, and so does vocalizing. Check out YouTube videos of horses vocalizing, and you’ll see what I mean.
Thanks Jenny! I’m glad you mentioned that. Whinnying movie horses are a pet peeve of mine. I addressed it very briefly in a post years ago, but had forgotten about that until you brought it up. It’s here along with many entertaining comments: http://kimberlymoynahan.com/2012/04/friday-fiction-facts-avoid-hoof-in-mouth/ Enjoy!
Thank you for the link – your information is helpful to editors and writers who value accuracy. And shouldn’t we all? Cheers!