Go Ahead, Make My Day: Weird Animal Defenses

By Howard J. Bennett

Last month, I wrote an article on how animals keep themselves clean. Although the methods varied between species, cleanliness is an important survival technique for predator and prey alike.

Given the response to the article, I thought I’d do a sequel. Most animals use defense mechanisms that are well known.

• Having eyes on the side of its head to see predators more easily.

• Playing dead if a predator approaches.

• Using camouflage to blend into the background.

Some animals have evolved unique defenses to avoid becoming someone else’s dinner. Here are a few of them.

Skipper caterpillar. This wily invertebrate can shoot poop pellets five feet through the air! This is the equivalent to a six-foot-tall adult throwing a ball 240 feet. Scientists think skipper caterpillars do this when threatened because wasps are attracted to the smell of their droppings. The flying turds send the wasps on a wild goose chase thereby giving the caterpillar time to get away.

Sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers have a number of defenses. One of them is called the “cuke nuke” because the animal’s intestinal tract is propelled through its anus. The material that’s expelled is sticky and toxic, making it difficult for the predator to complete its attack. The sea cucumber can regenerate its internal organs in a few months if the water conditions are optimal. In less favorable conditions, the animal will die after deploying the cuke nuke.

Horned lizard. There are 15 species of horned lizards in the North America. Four of them have the ability to squirt blood out of their eyes when threatened. During an attack, the lizard is able to reduce the flow of blood from its head to the rest of the body. This increases the pressure in tiny blood vessels near the eye causing them to burst spewing a stream of blood up to five feet from the body. In addition to confusing a predator, the blood tastes foul. (Not that I’ve actually tasted it!)

Malaysian ant. Like other ants, a Malaysian ant colony consists of many players: the queen, workers, soldiers, and drones (the queen’s mates). If a colony is threatened, it is a soldier’s job to defend its comrades. The Malaysian soldier ant has a secret weapon—large glands full of poison. But the soldier does not bite his adversaries. Instead, he will scurry away from the colony with the enemy in fast pursuit. Once surrounded, the ant contracts its abdomen causing the glands to explode spraying poison in all directions. However, there is bad news for the heroic solider ant. It too dies after the “explosion.”

Hairy frog. Because they’re amphibians, frogs do not have hair. This 5-inch frog got its name because of hair-like projections that are present on the body and thighs of breeding males. The hairy frog is indigenous to Central Africa, but it isn’t the animal’s “hair” that is used for defense. If the animal is threatened, it deliberately breaks its toe bones and forces the sharp bones through the skin. (Think of it as a miniature Wolverine—without Hugh Jackman’s good looks!) Scientists don’t know if the makeshift claws are used for fighting or to give the frog more traction for fleeing to safety.

And you thought the US military had awesome weapons!


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 11/13/11.)

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