Innate ability of goats to sense and avoid ingestion of noxious insects while feeding

Tali S. Berman, Noa Messeri, Tzach A. Glasser, Moshe Inbar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Large mammalian herbivores regularly encounter noxious insects on their food plants. Recent evidence revealed that goats efficiently avoid insect ingestion while feeding, yet it is unknown whether this ability is innate. We experimentally examined the behavioural responses of naive goat kids to a common insect, the spring-webworm (Ocnogyna loewii). We filmed and analysed the kids' behaviour while feeding and compared it to the behaviour described in adults. Naive kids sorted the webworms apart from the food without ingesting them (all webworms survived). They exhibited behaviours similar to those displayed by adults, demonstrating an innate ability to avoid insect ingestion. The kids detected webworms using tactile stimulation, obtained by repeatedly touching the leaves with their muzzles. This enabled them to pick webworm-free leaves (leaving 93% of webworms behind). While adults frequently shook or discarded leaves with webworms or spat out webworms, these behaviours were rare in kids. The kids' mean feeding rates doubled over the trials, indicating that their feeding efficiency on plants with and without insects improved with experience. As ingesting noxious insects could be fatal, innate avoidance is critical. These findings highlight the importance of direct interactions between mammalian and insect herbivores.

Original languageEnglish
Article number181078
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ethics. The experiments were approved by Ramat Hanadiv management and all methods were carried out in accordance with the guidelines and regulations of the Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee of Israel. Data accessibility. Data are available from the Dryad Digital Repository: [48]. Authors’ contributions. T.S.B., T.A.G. and M.I. conceived and designed the experiments. T.S.B. and N.M. performed the experiments and analysed the data. T.S.B. and M.I. wrote the paper: All authors read and approved the final manuscript. Competing interests. We declare we have no competing interests. Funding. This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 248/17). Acknowledgements. We thank the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park management and staff for their valuable support. We thank Dr Matan Ben-Ari and Prof. Ido Izhaki for their statistical advice. We also thank Dr Moshe Gish for fruitful discussion and suggestions. Finally, we thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors.


  • Grazing
  • Incidental ingestion
  • Learning
  • Mammalian herbivores
  • Noxious insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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