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6 Strange Animal Defenses that Keep Predators at Bay

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Humans have evolved into complex beings, with our five senses and intelligence which keeps us safe from danger. Animals also have their own strategies to keep them safe from harm, especially from predators. In fact, these defense mechanisms are very crucial that it determines their lifeline in the wild.  

Some of the most popular defenses mechanism is the skunk’s farting style. You might already experience the powerful smell of skunks right at your face. However, there are also those animals that are more artistic in their defending styles.

An example of this are the exploding ants from Borneo in Southeast Asia. These ants will never hesitate to explode themselves to protect their colony. Unfortunately, this protective action kills the ant, but it can save the colony from danger, according to National Geographic.

The sea cucumber will shoot its digestive organs out its anus to protect itself. In some cases, the sea cucumber’s intestines can be poisonous to predators. Sometimes, though, it’s just a clever way of convincing a predator it is dead.

We can all agree that these defense mechanisms are indeed wild. However, the animal kingdom is indeed full of strange behaviors. Animals engage in bizarre ways just to keep themselves safe (and of course, live longer).

So, here’s a look at some of the defense mechanisms used by animals you might see in your backyard.

#1. Vomiting by the Turkey Vulture

If you happen upon a turkey vulture devouring a meal, it’s best to give it plenty of space. Why? Because if you don’t, these birds will vomit everything they have eaten just to stop others to disturb them.

Turkey vultures mainly eat carrion or the carcasses of dead animals. In short, their stomach contents maybe a little more despicable than most creatures. And they can heave their stomach contents pretty far – up to 10 feet away. Even the young vultures are well-versed in vomiting to keep potential predators away.

Aside from vultures, camels are also famous for spitting. This is their simple but disgusting way of protecting themselves from harm. Unfortunately, their spit is actually a combination of their stomach contents and saliva. They use this to distract or bother creatures who are planning to get to close to them.

Turkey vulture looking for potential food
https://pixabay.com/photos/turkey-vulture-new-world-vultures-4858819/

#2. Mimicking by the Monarch and Viceroy Butterfly

Some animals protect themselves from predators by looking very similar to another animal, a practice called mimicry. One of the best doers of mimicking is the viceroy and monarch butterflies. These two butterflies are almost identical except for one black stripe that viceroys have on their hind wings.

Both of these butterflies eat plants that contain toxic compounds making them taste bitter to predators. This is the main reason why predators keep at bay. Most importantly, it helps the butterflies double their protection since predators will stay away from both of them.

Monarch Butterfly
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Beautiful Viceroy Butterfly
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Another type of mimicry is called Batesian mimicry. This happens when a non-toxic animal evolves and copies the appearance of a toxic animal to protect itself from predators. An example of this is the non-venomous scarlet kingsnake and the venomous coral snake. Predators avoiding these two due to the difficulty in identifying the differences.

Non-venomous Scarlet King Snake
Scarlet King Snake
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Venomous Coral Snake
Coral Snake
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Both the scarlet kingsnake and the coral snake have red, yellow, and black bands. The distinct difference is that the yellow and red bands are next to each other on a coral snake. On the other hand, a black band always separates the yellow and red bands of a scarlet kingsnake. This subtle distinction has given rise to a clever rhyme: “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow. Red touches black, friend of Jack.”

#3. Farting by the Skunks

The stinky spray of a skunk is one of the most well-known animal defenses there is. But it’s usually used as a last resort by these striped animals. When threatened, skunks will first try less odiferous means to keep a potential predator at bay. It may start by hissing and stomping its feet, according to the Smithsonian Institute. However, if this will not scare the predators away, the skunk will arch its back and lift its tail.

If all else fails, a skunk will deliver a spray of its pungent musk. The musk is contained in anal glands that have nipples so the skunks can precisely direct their spray to their enemy. Most importantly, this stinky smell can reach up to 10 feet or more, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The spray may cause an unsuspecting animal’s eyes to water and sting, but it leaves no lasting damage. However, the smell can linger for days or even weeks, tormenting the victim for quite a while.

Baby skunks
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Skunk spray is the most effective foul-smelling defense. In fact, it can be smelled more than a half-mile away. There are also other animals that use bad smells to scare their predators and enemies away. Minks, which are related to skunks, is a good example. They also secrete a bad-smelling musk from their anal glands when threatened. However, compared to skunks, theirs is not as powerful and potent.

Stink bugs secrete a smelly fluid. Bombardier beetles release a foul-smelling secretion that can also burn and irritate the skin to defend itself.

#4. Exploding by the Exploding Ants

Ant colonies have different types of ants filling different roles. There are those that their only job is to defend the colony against attackers. However, for some species of ants originating in Southeast Asia, defending the colony means more than just biting attackers with their mandibles. Defending the colony means exploding themselves to their attackers.

These exploding ants have large, poison-filled glands that run down the length of their bodies. When under threat, the ant will violently contract its abdominal muscles to blow itself up and spray the sticky poison on the attacker. However, the explosion isn’t what’s dangerous. The ant’s only purpose is to release the corrosive chemical irritant, which can immobilize or kill the attacker.

Although this also kills the ant, its action can help save the entire colony. But we never know whether or not the exploded ants are honored with a hero’s burial is unknown. 😉

Exploding ants ready to fight
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/20/exploding-ants-borneo-colobopsis-explodens
Exploding ants preparing their bombs
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#5. Disguising by the Walking Stick

Camouflage is a well-known way for animals to protect themselves from predators. However, there is no other creature in the animal kingdom is as good at it as walking sticks. There are more than 3,000 species of these insects exists across the world. And their stick-like appearance serves them well in hiding from potential predators. Walking sticks are usually green or brown in color to blend in with the twigs they disguise themselves as, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Stick bugs don’t just look like sticks; they act like them too. They can be hard to the touch, like a stick or twig would be. And to help them blend in, they will sway in the wind just like the twigs on a tree would do. (Aren’t they smart, huh?)

Walking stick disguising through nature
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These masters of camouflage have some competition in the animal kingdom when it comes to blending in with their environment. There are many insects, lizards, frogs and snakes also have coloring that allows them to blend in rather than stand out. Also, our oceans are full of creatures – from fish to seahorses to crustaceans – that blend into their environment so as not to call attention to themselves.

#6. Dying by the Opossums

Opossums are notorious for playing dead, and they are very good at it. But it’s not really an act. That is, they don’t actively decide to play dead. It’s an involuntary response that is more like fainting, according to the San Diego Zoo.

When an opossum plays dead, it bares its teeth, foams at the mouth and secretes a fluid from its anal glands that gives off a bad smell. All of these things add to the look of it being dead, helping to keep predators at bay. It can remain in this catatonic state for a few minutes or a few hours.

Possum protecting his territory
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Are there other animal defense mechanisms that you know? Tell us in the comments below.

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