How do animals mark their territory?

Share This Post & Help Others!

How do animals mark their territory? – (Explained With Some Examples)

Many animals are territorial. Those that are territorial mark their territories using sounds, pheromones, urination, feces, and by using various other techniques.

For marking their territory, they can create “sign-posts” to advertise their territory. These sign-posts are signals that mark their territories by communicating with other animals in and out of their territory by olfactory, auditory, or visual means, or by a combination of these.

So, in simple words, animals communicate using signals which can include visual signals, auditory or sound-based signals, chemical signals involving pheromones, tactile or touch-based signals to mark their territories.

Some can also acquire and mark their territories by fighting with the dominant territory holder, and then making new territories. Animals engaging in fights are expensive for them in terms of energy and the risk of injury.

Now for defending their territory, they can use several strategies. Some of the well-known strategies are the Game-model of fighting strategy, War of attrition strategy, Dear Enemy effect, and Reciprocal altruism.

Using the Game-model of fighting strategy the animals fighting for their territory will either injure its opponent and make him run away, or will only withdraw from the fight if an injury is received.

Also, as per the Game-model of fighting strategy, the animal can show an aggressive and non-injurious display to fight if the rival is weak, or the animal will flee away and will avoid the fight if the rival is powerful.


Another is by the War of attrition strategy, in which both animals fight for a specific time and the one who wins the fight is the one who has injured his rival the most.

Let’s understand how animals mark their territory with the below-mentioned following examples:

Example 1: Scent Marking used by Leopards

Scent marking is a way of urinating or pouring feces or by rubbing their bodies over the boundaries of the animal’s territory.

The urine or feces contains pheromones or carrier proteins such as the major urinary proteins to stabilize the odors and maintain them for longer.

Such marking are often seen in other big cats like leopards, lions, etc. Both sexes of big cats like leopards use such markings.

Both sexes do urinate in the boundary regions to mark their territories. After urinating, they are often seen to scrape the ground to transfer the scent of his urine onto their feet that are to be carried during territorial boundary patrols.

Leopards are also known to rub their body on surfaces like vegetations located near their territorial boundaries.

By doing so, the Leopard is transferring secretions from body glands, thus leading to scent marking for intruders.

Example 2: Auditory Marking used by Birds

Auditory communication is particularly crucial in birds like Woodpeckers, etc. who use sounds to convey warnings to intruders and mark their territory.

Singing is one of the most common ways birds advertise that their territory belongs to them. They sing to defend the territory in which they mate, nest, or feed. For example, it’s seen in various Songbirds like Cockatoo, Cockatoo, etc.

Birds like Woodpeckers are known to perform auditory markings like drumming. Drumming is a woodpecker’s act of rapidly striking a hard object or hollow tree to create a pattern of sound as territorial markings.

Example 3: Visual Marking by Chimpanzees

Visual markings are actually the signals shown by the various territorial defenders that include gestures, facial expressions, body postures, and coloration of the defending animal to let know its aggression and defending capabilities to the intruders.

Chimpanzees are inherently violent and they are known to defend their territories by showing visual markings accompanied by aggressive fights with their intruders and rivals.

Chimpanzees can show various facial aggressive expressions like taking out teeth and vertical lip retraction.

In the wild, dominating chimpanzees are often seen showing such facial aggressive expressions to other intruding males when trying to enter their territory.

Example 4: Tactile Marking used by Lions

Tactile meaning touch-based, meaning that in tactile marking the animal will touch each other in order to give the feel and mark its territory from intruders.

Fighting is a type of tactile marking because the defending animal needs to touch the intruder/rival in order to fight for his territory and show its physical aggression.

Very aggressive tactile markings (here fights) can be performed by the dominating male lion against other intruding males trying to defend his territory and mates.

First, the lion will roar to warn others to stay away from his territory and this is a form of auditory marking. If still, the intruders choose to fight, then the tactile marking in the form of a fight will happen.

During the fight, either the defending male lion or the intruder may be highly injured or may even die.

The death of either lion or the excessive injuries in any one of them causing it to flee away from the contest is the result of such tactile markings leading to winning or losing over the territory.

Why do animals mark their territory?

Animals need food, water, shelter, and space to survive. These are their basic needs. So, if the animal gets all of these from its surroundings then it will survive.

So, it will always be the first priority of the animal to defend its surroundings which it has marked for itself and its family where they get all of their basic needs viz. food, water, shelter, and space to survive.

Now, after the basic needs are well-fulfilled, it will need to grow its generation which can only be done by mating with the opposite sex. So, for doing so the defending male will always try to defend his territory which will also indirectly defend his mates from being taken away by intruding males.

Some animals like lions, chimpanzees, dogs, cats, hyenas, etc. also try to defend their territory in order to indicate their social status to other non-territorial ones. Just like that the big territory often indicates a big lion pride (family) in the wild.

Marking territory is done when pet dogs and cats are wanting to stake out a claim to a particular object and to let others know about their claim.

They also mark their territory to trigger a response in another individual of the same species about the boundaries of their territory. Such can be seen in ants and bees that use pheromones and other touch-based cues to indicate each other about the direction and boundaries of the territory (habitat).

Marking of the territory is also necessary to signal potential non-territorial mates that the territorial animal is ready to mate and is in search of a mate.

Just like when any mature female leopard enters her oestrus phase they will start to mark their respective territories by urinating. This will give scent markings (olfactory markings) to potential males indicating that she is ready to mate and have cubs.

What is territorial behavior? – (Explained)

In Zoology, territorial behavior is a type of innate or learned behavior of an animal to defend its territory and all of the resources it has inside its territory.

Territorial behavior also means defending one’s habitat and other members of the animal group or family from being attacked by intruders of the same species or of a different species.

In most of the scenarios, just seen in big cats like lions, there’s a dominating alpha male lion with other supporting lions whose job is to protect the territory and the females with whom they mate.

Also, in most of the scenarios, just seen in big cats like female leopards who stay solitarily in their respective territory, performs the job of attracting potential mates inside the territory and defending their territory from other female intruders all by alone.

In other animals like ants and bees, all of the members in the group inhabiting that particular territory is known to work in proper co-operation and co-ordination to fight against any intruding one and defend their territory.

So, as already mentioned above in this article, it is again to be noted that the animals use various types of auditory, visual, tactile, or chemical-based markings that vary from animal to animal, in order to mark their territory as sign-posts to let intruders know the boundaries.

Territorial behavior is actually good as it can also prevent overcrowding by maintaining an optimum distance among members of a population. Thus, keeping a balance in the ecosystem over the long-term.

For example: Rhinoceros will deposit feces and urinate in the boundary regions of its territory. These are kinds of olfactory markings letting intruders know about the boundaries of its territory.

What are the benefits and costs of the animals for marking their territory?

Here are the benefits and costs of the animals for marking their territory:


It benefits the animal to protect the resources like food, shelter, water, etc. that the animals have in their surroundings.

It also benefits the animal to mate without any interruption or to raise its young ones.

It also benefits the animal to protect the young ones within its territory who are incapable of self-defending.

It can also prevent overcrowding by maintaining an optimum distance among members of a population.

It also helps them to properly reproduce and adapt with better balance in the ecosystem over time.

The competition helps in the establishment of territories, but once the territory is well-established, it leads to reduced competition and thus reduces the longevity for the survival of the animals.

The territorial behavior also indicates the social status and power of the animals defending their territories.


Defending a territory may often lead to aggressive fights between the animals. Such a territorial competition may often lead to death and injuries. So, time, energy, and risk of injury are the costs of territory defense.

If the territory has long been defended from generation to generation, then the members of the same family or animal group living inside that territory are unlikely to mate with other animals out of the territory. So, there will be a risk to evolution as gene flow will likely occur. However, such a scenario is very very rare.

If the animals living in their territories are not powerful or aggressive enough to capture new territories and extend its territorial boundaries as the members grow over time, then the resources may soon end up or won’t be available in the required numbers.

If in case, the defending male animal gets killed or is being fled away by an intruder male, then the intruder male can often dominate over the females and mate with them and can even kill the young ones living inside the territory. This can be seen in Lions, Leopards, etc.

Why do some animals mark their territory with urine?

Marking with urine is a form of olfactory markings (scent markings) that will indicate the intruding animals of the same or different species to stay away from the territory. For example: As seen by male lions who mark their territories by urinating.

Females can also mark their territory with urine when they do enter into their oestrous phase and are willing to mate. Their urine contains pheromones that signal potential males to know that the females are ready to mate. For example; As seen in female leopards.

Many animals use scent marking to advertise their territory, and so have adapted the strategy to simply urinate at strategic locations surrounding the boundaries of their territory to communicate their social status and ownership to the intruders aiming to come nearby or take away the territory.

So, urinating and marking the territory is a big advantage to the animals that want to provide sign-posts of warning to other animals, want to attract new mates, or new members inside the territory, or to make mutual association attracting other animals of the same or different species to make their survival easier.

So, How come urine makes markings possible in the form of olfactory markings? That’s possible because the urine often contains pheromones or carrier proteins such as the major urinary proteins to stabilize the odors and maintain them for a much longer time.

A pheromone is a chemical that an animal produces which changes the behavior of another animal of the same species.

These are chemical signals that have evolved for communication between members of the same species.

What do animals use to mark their territory?

Animals can urinate, or drop their feces to mark their territory. These are forms of olfactory markings done by animals. For example, as seen by lions, rhinoceros, etc.

Animals can also rub their body against the trees, vegetations, grasses, rocks, etc. to put their skin secretions or, their specialized scent glands secretions located on various areas of the body to mark their territory as olfactory markings. For example, as seen by leopards, jaguars, etc.

They can also show face-aggressiveness just like Chimpanzees, holding their distinctive tails high just like the Ring-tailed lemurs do, and also by vertical lip retraction just like the Chimpanzees do. These are forms of visual markings.

Some animals can also show various forms of markings to mark their territory. Just like Wolves advertise their territories to other packs through a combination of scent marking and howling as auditory markings.

Some animals can also perform ritualized aggression to warn the intruders about their territorial boundaries.

Ritualized aggression is when animals use a range of behaviors to intimidate an opponent but without engaging in fights. These can be seen in cats and dogs very often.

Many animals use vocalizations to advertise their territory. Just like songbirds sing, woodpeckers perform drumming, wolves perform howling, and lions roar to mark their territory by auditory markings.

Share This Post & Help Others!