Painting fake eyes on cattle's butts reduces predation by large carnivores

"Eyespots" (markings that look like eyes but can't see) are found on many different kinds of animals. One of the many reasons eyespots have evolved is to discourage predators, who either don't want to attack when an animal is looking at them or by fooling them into thinking the animal is much larger than it actually is. However, according to a new study published in Communications Biology, "anti-predator eyespots do not occur naturally in contemporary mammals." researchers decided to find out if painting eyespots on cattle rumps would reduce "attacks by ambush carnivores (lions and leopards)." The results were encouraging:

Cattle painted with eyespots were significantly more likely to survive than were cross-marked and unmarked cattle, despite all treatment groups being similarly exposed to predation risk. While higher survival of eyespot-painted cattle supports the detection hypothesis, increased survival of cross-marked cattle suggests an effect of novel and conspicuous marks more generally. To our knowledge, this is the first time eyespots have been shown to deter large mammalian predators. Applying artificial marks to high-value livestock may therefore represent a cost-effective tool to reduce livestock predation.

Radford, C., McNutt, J.W., Rogers, T. et al. Artificial eyespots on cattle reduce predation by large carnivores. Commun Biol 3, 430 (2020).