Period immediately after this phase provides opportunity to catch up on missed meals
Humans are most at risk of being eaten by lions just after a full moon, according to a new study of attacks in Africa. Other predators such as wolves may also be at their most dangerous when the moon starts to wane.
The findings could explain the full moon's place in folklore as a harbinger of evil and its association with werewolves and vampires, the Daily Mail reported.
The scientists, who studied records of nearly 500 lion attacks on Tanzanian villagers between 1988 and 2009, found that the victims were eaten in over two-thirds of the cases.
Most of the attacks occurred between dusk and 10 p.m. when the moon was waning and providing relatively little light, the researchers said.
Lions hunt most successfully in darkness, which allows them to surprise their prey, but on bright moonlit nights they may have to go hungry.
The period immediately following a full moon provides a lion with a welcome opportunity to catch up on missed meals, they said.
Chief investigator Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences in the U.S. said: “People start out at moderate danger during days 0-4, when the moon is only a sliver and sets shortly after sunset.
“Danger then declines as the moon gets brighter each evening, with very few attacks in the nights just before the full moon. Then, wham, danger spikes as those hungry lions can now operate in darkness for the rest of the lunar cycle.
“The post-full moon spike is restricted to relatively few hours of full darkness before the largish moon rises later in the evening.”
The study, published in the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) ONE, involved checking measurements of the lion belly size, logged regularly since 1978, and records of attacks kept by Tanzanian authorities.
According to the researchers, as the moon wanes, it does not reappear until well after dusk and peak danger times for humans are therefore the active hours after sunset, especially the day after a full moon.
The pattern emerged clearly when the researchers compared attack rates with moon phases.
Attacks were a third more frequent during the second half of the cycle, when there was little or no moonlight.
Humans have lived close to large nocturnal carnivores for thousands of years. “Thus we have always been exposed to risks of predation that cycled with the waxing and waning of the moon,” said the scientists.
“The darkest hours in the early evening are restricted to the weeks following the full moon, and lions are hungriest immediately after the bright evenings of the second quarter.”