ZOO-ology column: Hunting styles as diverse as animal kingdom

By Judie Farnsworth
Nov. 25, 2012 at 5:25 a.m.
Updated Nov. 26, 2012 at 5:26 a.m.

Green heron

Green heron

Shopping season is in full swing - hunting for just the right thing.

Fortunately for us, this is usually for our more superficial needs.

Wild animals have a lifelong, year-round hunting season. Of course, in the animal kingdom, predation is the correct term, and it's a matter of survival. Shop till you drop is not a happy situation.

Highly developed senses are vital to their success. Whether used primarily or in combinations, senses are fine tuned for specific lifestyles.

Some species use a single approach to hunting but most use the strategy that best fits the immediate circumstance. Weather, time of day, prey availability, fitness or age can play a part in determining how dinner is served. The familiar outrun, outmuscle or grab and gulp techniques seem pretty ho-hum when compared to some hunting methods. Did you know there is a fish that hunts by spitting?

The archer fish spots insects on foliage overhanging the water. It shoots - knocking them down with a precise stream of spit. The power of the shot can vary for prey of different sizes.

Humpback whales and bubbles - an unlikely association? These giants hunt in groups, herding schools of fish toward the water's surface. They blow rings of bubbles around the fish, creating a sort of bubble net then swim in with mouths open.

The electric eel can stun prey with shocks of 600 volts. The mantis shrimp is a champion boxer with clubbed arms that can punch at 50 mph.

Echolocation is a biological sonar commonly associated with bats, but some whales, dolphins and a few bird species use this for both navigating and hunting. Pulses of high frequency sound are sent out and echo back from objects. Highly specialized animals using echolocation often receive a 3D image of objects.

The huge Amazonian giant centipede can be as long as a man's forearm. Venomous claws are its weapon of choice. Crawling to the ceiling of a bat cave it hangs, dangling, as bats fly about. It strikes out, stabbing and paralyzing a passing bat that quickly dies and is completely devoured within an hour.

A trapdoor spider uses architecture to ambush prey. It constructs underground burrows with camouflaged silken-hinged or plug doors. The spider quickly pops the door to grab a passing insect.

An alligator snapping turtle may weigh up to 100 pounds. Lying motionless underwater with jaws wide open, it wiggles a fleshy appendage on its tongue to lure passing fish, frogs or other turtles.

A jaguar may splash its tail on water to attract fish, and a green heron may even drop small objects into the water, hoping to attract a meal.

Methods of hunting (predation) are as varied as our animal species: way-out, weird, wild or wow.

Check The Texas Zoo's website for some upcoming and wonderful adventures to help you learn more.


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Judie Farnsworth is a longtime volunteer at the Texas Zoo specializing in educational programs.



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