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The answer, of course, is very carefully (ba-dum-bum!).
Okay, having gotten that horrible joke out of the way, it seems like people are really interested in cheetahs and how they hunt. I’ve written about monitoring cheetah hunting behaviors before and the implications that technology has for future data gathering and analysis (see here, here and here). The most recent addition to what seems to be a growing canon of testing and abolishing cheetah hunting myths was published recently in Biology Letters (abstract only; rest behind a paywall. But see here for a more extensive summary of the paper). In this work, the researchers report using temperature sensors to test the hypothesis that cheetahs are unsuccessful in some of their hunts because they overheat.
This seems like such a nice, neat story. That’s probably one reason why it’s taken so long to actually test it. The story goes something like: Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals. Everyone heats up when they run. If cheetahs run the fastest, they must heat up the most. Therefore, heat is the gating factor for Cheetah hunting. Stories are so appealing! But that appeal, in satisfying our sense of order, can keep us from looking under the hood and asking questions.
Luckily for us, these researchers did. Robin Hetem and colleagues found that cheetah temperature did not increase substantially during hunts, whether successful or not. Oddly, temperature did increase after the hunt was over, and furthermore increased more for the cheetahs that were successful. The study authors speculate that the reason was heightened awareness to scavengers who might want to steal the cheetah’s prey.
This study highlights the value of remote sensing and our rapidly increasing ability to both monitor and store data continuously, and thereby test our notions of the world. Data of itself isn’t good or bad, but boy is it useful.