Animals

Predators and Prey: Examples and Characteristics

Wild nature is characterized by the struggle for survival, where all organisms seek to survive at all costs. Beyond being cruel hunting and chasing interactions, the relationship between predators and prey is what allows communities to be in balance. In this GreenEcology article we will talk about the importance of predators and prey, their characteristics and examples .

What are predators and prey and their characteristics

Predators are living beings that hunt other organisms, called prey, in order to feed and subsist through a transfer of energy in the form of food . It is an interaction where one organism is benefited, while the other involved is harmed. The predator can consume a prey entirely, or only take a part of it, although it causes considerable damage.

Usually the bloodthirsty example of ferocious animals hunting other small herbivorous animals comes to mind, but there are more types of predation. Predators can be omnivores or carnivores that hunt other animals . They can also be animals that eat plants, a type of predation known as herbivory. Although it may not seem credible, a predator can also be a plant, when it comes to extraordinary adaptations where they can prey on other animals, such as insects. Some authors define parasitism as another type of predation, where the parasite feeds on its prey while it is alive.

The relationship between prey and predator plays an important role in population dynamics , since without predators there would be an abundance of prey and, therefore, also their food. Regulation also works the same way, as the number of prey determines the number of predators.

Predator characteristics

The characteristics of predators focus on their abilities to locate, capture and consume prey. Therefore, we can highlight:

  • Highly developed senses : such as smell, vision and hearing, capable of recognizing prey from miles away.
  • Developed structure : to be more agile than their prey, with muscles capable of traveling long distances at maximum speed, heavy suffocating bodies, sharp nails and teeth to tear their prey, or annihilating poisons.
  • Striking for their prey : through aromas, such as certain carnivorous plants, or with attractive bioluminescences as a hook. Here you can learn more about How carnivorous plants feed .

Dam characteristics

Prey also have adaptive characteristics to defend against predators.

  • Camouflage ability : thanks to which they can go unnoticed in their environment. The colors can also serve as an alert, with bright colors or patterns that indicate to predators that they may be in danger if they are harmed. If you are curious to know more animals that camouflage, here you can find out more than 20 animals that camouflage themselves .
  • Eyes to the sides : allowing them a vision of their surroundings and to be on the lookout for predators. Their behavior is usually more alert and nervous than predators, so they are ready to run in case of threat.
  • Mechanical defense structures against predators: such as sharp thorns, or even
  • Chemical defenses : like capsaicin from Chile that tries to prevent them from consuming it, although humans have learned to take a liking to it.

It must be borne in mind that the number of prey is also important, since, normally, it usually exceeds the number of predators.

In order to better understand the interaction between predators and prey, below we are going to exemplify some of these relationships.

Boa constrictor and vertebrates

The boa constrictor is a species of snake native to Mexico. It was introduced to other ecosystems causing serious losses of wild biodiversity due to its predatory nature. It does not have a particular prey, but takes advantage of all the vertebrate animals it encounters, which can be mammals, birds or reptiles. They do not have venom, but use their heavy body to suffocate their prey . They hunt at night because they use the difference in temperature between the prey and the environment, detectable with their heat-sensitive lip scales. This nocturnal behavior, added to its arboreal location, makes bats their favorite food.

Rafflesia and meat flies

Rafflesia is a genus of giant exotic flowers of deep red color and 100 centimeters in diameter. They simulate a dead animal , as they give off an intense smell of putrefaction and even the heat they emit simulates a recently dead animal. Although it is unpleasant to humans, sarcophagid flies that lay their eggs in decomposing flesh are inevitably attracted to them, where they are swallowed up as prey. They are unable to photosynthesize , so they are double predators. In addition to preying on flies, they parasitize trees to survive.

Lynx and hare

The case of the lynx and the hare is an excellent example to understand the role that the relationship between predator and prey plays for population dynamics. The Canadian lynx feeds mainly on American hares and it has been observed that when hares are abundant, so do lynxes proportionally. These reach a point where they destroy the available hares , so they must consume other animals such as foxes or deer that are not enough. This results in the decrease of lynxes due to lack of food. This is when the hares recover and the cycle can begin again.

Examples of top predators

Although there are powerful predators, they can be consumed by other animals. This is how we get to the top predators. They are those that are at the highest level of the food chain , no predator consumes them. It is thanks to them that the structure of ecosystems occurs, because they regulate other species either indirectly or directly. They are even indicators of healthy ecosystems. They are carnivorous and usually large. Some examples of them are:

Cachalote

Physeter macrocephalus is a marine mammal that weighs up to 50 tons. Its diet is proportional to its size and is made up of whales, rays and squid, including the giant cephalopods of great depths, since it can dive more than any other mammal. To find their prey, they use echolocation. It also generates the loudest clicks in the animal kingdom , stunning its prey. In fact, the sperm whale has been estimated to be the largest predator ever.

Jaguar

Panthera onca is the top predator of the Neotropical forests . It has the characteristics of an excellent predator: speed of up to 60 kilometers per hour, a quiet hunting tactic, and heavy legs with sharp claws capable of annihilating. Its mottled camouflage helps it ambush its prey, instead of chasing it. These can be deer, armadillos, crocodiles, snakes, cows, fish, and turtles or frogs. In addition, it has a unique lethal technique among felines, in which it pierces the skull of its prey in the temporal bones until it reaches the brain.

Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos , with several subspecies, has excellent vision that it takes advantage of to glide from 3 kilometers high in search of its prey, which can range from rabbits to carnivorous mammals or deer. When it opens its wings, it can measure up to 2 meters and uses a precise dive to fish its prey and pierce its lungs to kill it in a matter of seconds.

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