Predators And Prey
In my beginning is my end. – T.S. Eliot
The flight or fight syndrome is intrinsic to the life of both predator and prey. Using instinct and learning, prey species are not only quick to spot potential danger, but use alarm calls and signals to communicate such danger to others in the group. Insects and vertebrates usually make use of their well-developed sight to detect movement, but evolution has armed species with other deadly devices including sonar (bats and dolphins) and heat sensors (pit vipers).
1. Jumping spider, Salticidae with Pea Blue butterfly
Photo: T.N.A. Perumal.
Jumping spiders have evolved a combination of good eyesight and an incredible ability to jump-attack prey without resorting to snares. Many jumping spiders do not really ‘jump’ but scurry around like ants. Web-weavers, on the other hand, are adapted to eat insects caught in their sophisticated snares.
2. Praying mantis, Mantodea devouring a Crimson Rose
Photo: Dr. M.S. Mayilvahnan.
Large compound eyes are an evolutionary adaptation, which, along with exquisite camouflage, help the praying mantis hone in on a butterfly in search of nectar. The mantis’ head can turn on its thorax and any shift in the position of its head excites sensory hairs, which help it to judge the angle of the prey from its body. Based on an assessment of position, distance and speed, the mantis strikes with elongated forelegs that are in the same angle of axis as the body. Powerful mouthparts do the rest.
3. Glow worm Lampyris noctiluca with snail
Photo: Dr. Anish Andheria.
Their brilliant flashing signals are recognisable in the dark. Both male and female glow worms are predatory insects whose larvae thrive on snails. Wingless females climb grass stalks to advertise their availability, where they themselves become vulnerable to predation.
4. Spider wasp, Pompilidae dragging cricket
Photo: Isaac Kehimkar.
This burrowing wasp is seen carrying a cricket to its nest. It is usually the female that paralyses the prey by stinging it and then carries it to the nest. An egg is then laid on the insect thus enabling the wasp larva to feed on the living prey and complete its development within the nest.
5. Leopard Panthera pardus with langur kill
Photo: A.J.T. Johnsingh.
Among the most efficient of land predators, leopards combine power, intelligence and skill to bring down prey. Camouflage allows them to remain virtually invisible to their prey, which include small mammals like the langur, reptiles and birds.
6. Common wolf snake Lycodon aulicus with a Brook’s gecko
Photo: Isaac Kehimkar.
Having dispensed with their limbs, snakes have evolved the ability to enter burrows and tiny hideouts in search of prey that they subdue with a modified saliva that acts to disable victims.
7. Hoopoe Upupa epops with grub
Photo: H. Satish.
The specialised bill of this myna-sized bird allows it to hunt insects and grubs that hide just under the surface of the ground. Its strategy involves thrusting its beak ‘blind’ into the soil, after which a combination of smell and touch alerts it to the presence of prey. Our fondness for lawns and gardens has enabled the hoopoe to colonise urban areas.
8. Indian wild dog or dhole Cuon alpinus with fawn kill
Photo: Vivek Sinha.
What they lack in individual size, these pack-hunting dogs make up by hunting in unison on a variety of prey ranging from chital and sambar to wild pig. Typically, they bring down prey by attacking the legs and hindquarters. A kind of ritual often precedes hunts with community defecation and nuzzling. The evolutionary importance of pack hunting has led to food sharing behaviour with meat regurgitated for cubs and females. These canines go out to hunt largely at dusk and dawn, but will not lose the opportunity to make a kill at any other time of the day.
Every living creature has a built-in defence mechanism to protect itself against predators, poisons or disease. Every animal either hunts or hides and evolution is the easel on which both these skills are crafted. The level of design perfection determines whether, and for how long, a species will survive. But nature is far from perfect. Which is why extinction has been a part and parcel of life on earth from the time the first single-celled organisms made their tentative appearance.
9. Grey heron Ardea cinerea with fish.
Photo: Yogesh Dixit.
This diurnal bird is generally solitary and prefers to hunt in the open. Its eyes and beak are so aligned as to compensate for the refraction caused by water from which fish, frogs and even snakes will be taken.
10. Tiger Panthera tigris feeding on kill
Photo: Vivek Sinha.
Sheer power brought to bear through a charge launched from hiding is the tiger’s main hunting technique. Nevertheless, only one in 10 attempts is likely to succeed. Opportunistic carnivores, they have learned to supplement their diet by scavenging on the kills of other animals. Highly territorial, tigers remain in the vicinity of a large kill for days, consuming between 20 to 30 kg. of meat in a day. The carcass is usually dragged to a thicket away from crows and jackals.
Sanctuary Asia Vol XX No. 6, December 2000.