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Some animals like tigers, lions, cats, etc do this action before attacking their prey suddenly and unexpectedly. In fact they seem waiting insidiously (?) until the appropriate moment for attacking and (usually) the poor prey is not aware of their presence.

What is the verb, phrase, or idiom for describing this action/ state?

I have found "ambush" but I don't know wether it can be used for animals or not.

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up vote 47 down vote accepted

The usual verb is stalk which is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

to follow (an animal or person that you are hunting or trying to capture) by moving slowly and quietly.

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1  
Hello, weissj. It is best to include an attribution-with-hotlink in answers. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 17 at 18:55
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This is what happens before the pictures in the question. They're done stalking, and are now poised and ready to pounce. – DCShannon Mar 18 at 23:25

Consider poised to pounce or poised to strike.

Poised:

balanced and prepared for action

(Collins)

From Bicycling Magazine's Mountain Biking Skills, p69:

When felines are poised to pounce, they're loose, not rigid.

From Gavin Ehringer's Western Horseman's Rodeo Legends:

Like a lion poised to pounce, Whitfield sets up for a winning run at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo in Tucson.

I think that felines pounce and snakes strike, but that's not absolute.

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4  
Poised just means "balanced" or "ready to do something." Without the words "to pounce," It doesn't communicate what the OP is going for. Maybe add "to pounce" to your suggested word and make it a phrase. – GetzelR Mar 17 at 19:28
    
+1, there it is. Was looking for "poised to pounce" somewhere on this page. – DCShannon Mar 18 at 23:23
    
@GetzelR, I would argue that the inclusion of the agent, namely a tiger, provides enough context that the elaboration, "to attack" is not needed. "The tiger was poised just feet away from its prey." I think it is pretty clear here what the tiger was going to do next... – Karl Mar 19 at 13:30
    
@Karl You're right, context might allow it to be stand alone. I notice that in your example agent and target are included. "The tiger was poised" would just mean "composed." "The tiger was poised feet away from the buck" is better, and using the word "prey" brings it home. This shifting in meaning or clarity depending on context argues for including "to pounce" to the generic phrase, to be removed as context allows. – GetzelR Mar 20 at 14:42
    
@GetzelR, yes. The full composition creates the context necessary for 'poised' to work, you're right. I agree that removing just one part of that sentence could be semantically harmful. Incidentally, it is these sort of emergent context issues that cause particular trouble for second/foreign language learners, in my experience—they're so fragile and nuanced. – Karl Mar 20 at 14:50

I would say the feline is crouching, ready to pounce. See the images of ready to pounce google gives you (I reproduce some here):

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Crouch in Oxford Learner's Dictionaries:

1 to put your body close to the ground by bending your legs under you

Pounce in Oxford Learner's Dictionaries:

to move forward suddenly in order to attack or catch someone or something
The lion crouched, ready to pounce.

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Thanks a lot, @Jacinto. Can I describe the 4th picture like this : :"The tiger crouched, then pounced on the alligator and hunted it."? – Soudabeh Mar 17 at 18:04
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@Soudabeh fine except for the and hunted it, which sounds weird to me. Stalking the prey, crouching, and pouncing on the prey is all part of the hunt. "Pounced on the alligator and killed it" sounds better to me. – Jacinto Mar 17 at 18:10
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Definitely crouch; this is the right answer. – Ben Collins Mar 17 at 18:18
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or: "crouched into a hunting position". – ermanen Mar 17 at 18:49
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@Soudabeh Your fourth picture is not a tiger...it is a jaguar – ab2 Mar 17 at 22:46

While stalking their prey, predators get as far down on their haunches as possible as soon as they're ready to pounce. This allows them to store energy in their tendons, that enables them to close what distance is left in a heartbeat.

Of interest may be the classic swishing of the tail, which is thought to betray their anxiety about whether or not, and at which moment, to strike.

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I would suggest "lie in wait," meaning to conceal oneself, waiting to surprise, attack, or catch someone. [OxfordDictionaries.com]

Some of the images included in the question show animals stalking their prey, but the verbal description of the phrase sought by the original poster leads me to believe that that is unintentional.

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Consider,

creep

: to move along with the body prone and close to the ground

M-W

The lion crept toward the antelope, moving perhaps an inch at a time. Enrichment Reading

lie at (the) catch/upon the catch

The noun “wait” once had more meanings that it does today. For example, it used to mean a watchman or guard.

Today we use it mostly to mean a period of waiting (as in “an hour’s wait”), but something of the old meaning survives in the expressions “lie in wait” (dating from around 1440) and “sit in wait” (before 1300).

In the sense of lying in ambush, English speakers once also used the phrases “lie at catch” and “lie upon the catch.”

Grammarphobia

lurk

lie in wait in a place of concealment, especially for an evil purpose.

M-W

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Poised, primed, cocked, loaded, sprung, stalking maybe... A snake would be coiled.

Removing the criterion of one word: in the zone.

For the best word we must go to the Sanskrit: Ekagrata (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekagrata)

Ekagrata is a state of single pointed natural focus. The cat is in Ekagrata. A Kalarippayattu fighter from southern India aspires to attain to Ekagrata.

But the cat is always in a state of Ekagrata! The fighter must learn from the cat!

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Sometimes just prior to actually pouncing, panthers (and even people!) are described as being
in attack mode.”
(description of such a panther from ‘Lost on the Mountain’ by Elisabeth Williams and of such a person from ‘The Taster: A Novel’ by Jonathan Hickman, both via ‘Google Books’)

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Camouflage, also called cryptic coloration, is a defense or tactic that organisms use to disguise their appearance, usually to blend in with their surroundings. Organisms use camouflage to mask their location, identity, and movement. This allows prey to avoid predators, and for predators to sneak up on prey. 1

National Geographic

Three of the four felines in the images posted by the OP are sneaking up on their prey so as not to be seen. (Google images)

sneak up on
To approach a person or animal without being seen or heard

Camouflaged against the tall grasses, cheetahs quietly sneak up on their prey until they are confident about the attack, burst out using their tail as a rudder, trip the animal with their paw, and then suffocate it with a bite to the neck. After making the kill, cheetahs must eat quickly or drag the food to a hiding spot before any lions, leopards, or hyenas steal it.

Conservation Institute

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