SPONSORED CONTENT by Trevor Myburgh – Bushwise
Whether you are a tiny insect or an elephant, evading predation is a daily reality for most animal species.
The first line of defence consists of avoiding detection, through mechanisms such as camouflage, masquerade, living underground or being nocturnal. Animals that live underground decrease their chances of being detected by a predator and being active at night works similarly for certain species – nocturnality is a form of crypsis. Nocturnal animals also need to ensure that they prioritize the timing of their emergence at night because early emergence could lead to higher predation risk. Bats are a good example of this – by timing their exit well, they can avoid predators like bat hawks.
The kudu will use camouflage to blend in with their natural surrounding areas to avoid being detected by predators. However, prey animals are not the only species that use camouflage – predators like a puff adder will use their cryptic colouration to hide in dead leaves waiting for prey to pass by before striking. Some species will even mimic their immediate surrounding areas like dead leaves on the ground, changing colour to fit in with the immediate surrounding areas to stay undetected.
Some animals will hide in plain sight by masquerading as inedible objects. A perfect example of this is a chameleon that pretends to be dead when it spots a predator. Others will even ward off an attack, whether by advertising the presence of strong defences in aposematism; by mimicking more dangerous animals; distraction; or through safety in numbers. Another way of avoiding becoming prey is called thanatosis, or “playing dead”. Thanatosis is a form of a bluff in which an animal feigns death to avoid being attacked by predators seeking live prey.
Many weakly-defended animals, including moths, butterflies and mantises make use of patterns of threatening or startling markings. If attacked, they may suddenly display conspicuous eyespots, or open their wings to scare off or momentarily distract a predator, thus allowing them to escape. Some marine species use a different distraction method – they eject a mixture of chemicals which mimic food to confuse the predators, which allows them to escape. Even more dramatically, some species like lizards can escape when caught by sacrificing certain body parts.
Distraction comes in many forms, and some bird species will divert the predator by pretending to be injured to lure it away from young chicks or a nest. The bird will pretend to hop on the ground with a broken wing so that the predator turns its attention to them in search of an easy meal. As soon as the predator gets too close, the bird simply drops the act and flies away.
Antelope species such as impalas or springbok will leap high with stiff legs and an arched back, demonstrating their physical fitness and indicating to a potential predator that they would not make an easy target for predation. Many animals can flee or outmanoeuvre their attackers, or fight back chemically or through physical strength. Animals like buffalo or waterbuck could choose to stand together to intimidate the predators – using safety in numbers. Bird species also play a vital role in prey survival by providing a warning call if they spot a predator. Most often, a predator that has been spotted will abandon the hunt, and the prey animals survive unscathed.
Predator and prey are eternally pitted against each other in a race for survival – every evasion method is an adaption to a predatory technique. Still, nothing is ever entirely effective, and the cycle continues unchanged.