Eight predators with nifty catch-and-kill tricks
From a cat that impersonates monkeys to spectacularly sticky spit, Jana Howden takes us through some unique hunting tactics – and puts a few myths to bed.
The bobtail squid (Sepioloidea pacifica) which looks like a colourful lantern, owes its glow to another species entirely – a bacterium known as Vibrio fisheri. When these bacteria are in abundance inside the squid, they change their own gene expression to luminesce.
Because the bobtail squid hunts nocturnally, its glowing body mimics the moonlight. Hovering above its prey, the squid removes all traces of a silhouette, allowing it to blend in and prey upon unsuspecting victims below.
Native to the islands of Indonesia, Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) are capable of bringing down prey as large as water buffalo.
It was long thought that Komodo dragons killed their prey by transmitting fatal infections from their bacteria-ridden teeth. But evidence suggests that Komodo dragons kill their prey predominantly through other mechanisms, such as injecting venom from their salivary glands into their prey.
One of their most effective kill tactics is shredding the flesh of their victims with serrated teeth, and letting them bleed out.
The delicate orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) appears to blend in with a floral environment to capture insects through its impressive camouflage. But research suggests that the orchid mantis may not be attempting to imitate an orchid at all; it’s their colour that constitutes the most important component of their capture tactic.
The mantis’ hues attract insects – which associate bright colours with nectar-filled flowers – allowing the mantis to grab hold of its prey with its spiked forelegs.
This means that rather than attempting to blend in with its environment, the mantis can attract prey in its own right.
The margay (Leopardus wiedii) has developed a unique way of capturing its prey’s attention. Studies suggest that the South American jungle cat mimics the cries of baby monkeys to lure unsuspecting victims.
They can also see six times better than humans at night, thanks to their huge eyes, while their long, mobile whiskers allow them to navigate the jungle canopy.
People (reasonably) thought that boa constrictors (Boa constrictor) suffocated their prey by wrapping their long bodies around their victims to squeeze them to death.
But recent research suggests that boas actually work on their prey’s blood supply in order to cause rapid death.
The boa’s squeeze stops blood flow and vital organs such as the brain and liver shut down.
Electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) can produce a 660-volt shock of electricity from their tail to stun and immobilise their victims.
But the eel can also send out periodic discharges of electric current, causing involuntary muscle twitches in hidden victims, thereby revealing their location.
The archer fish (Toxotes jaculatrix) might look unassuming, but its method of obtaining a meal is truly incredible. By contorting their tongue against the roof of their mouth while compressing their gill covers, the fish are able to hit prey with a spurt of water with pinpoint precision metres away.
They target insects and small animals perched close to the water’s edge, sending their victims tumbling into the water.
Chameleons (such as Calumma parsonii, pictured) predominantly use their colour-changing talents to communicate, not camouflage, but their hunting skills are equally worthy of our appreciation.
The chameleon’s tongue is longer than its body and shoots out to capture insects in less than a second, drawing them back into the chameleon’s mouth at comparable velocity, like a bungee cord.
An article published in Nature earlier this year showed that the mucous secreted by a chameleon’s tongue pad is 400 times as viscous as ours. This renders chameleon spit sticky enough to trap prey as large as birds and small mammals.