Updated: Oct 7
Black Footed Cat
Many animals hunt to survive. The relationship between predator and prey in different environments create unique physical and behavioral adaptations. Predators need specific traits that give them an increased chance of success on the hunt. Some animals rely on symbiosis, some on their hearing, some have locked and loaded appendages, and others rely on a variety of hunting techniques to improve their success rate. There are many amazing hunters in the animal kingdom. Here are just a few interesting species.
The deadliest cat in the world is not the lion, tiger, or cheetah, but instead a wild cat that is smaller than the average house cat. The Black Footed Cat is between 2.5-4.5 lbs (1.1-2 kg) and sits about 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) tall. The reason these small felines have the title of world’s deadliest cat is because they have the highest success rate for their hunts. Black footed cats are successful on around 60% of their hunts. For comparison, tigers are successful on about 10% of their hunts and lions are successful on about 30% of their hunts. Part of their success comes from their variety of hunting strategies. They can run through tall grass to scare out their prey, walk through the grass to look for what stirs, or they can stalk up quietly on their targeted prey. They also have great night vision and excellent hearing.
Now let's take a dive into the ocean. Our next hunter is a formidable predator even if they are only a few inches long. The pistol shrimp is named after their unique claw. They have two different shaped claws and the larger one is their method of attack. When they find their prey, the claw locks open, and then they close them at such a high speed that it creates an air bubble that fires out about 60 mph (97 kph). When the bubble pops it is very loud. In fact, the sound can reach up to 210 decibels, which for frame of reference, a gunshot is 140-175 decibels. Also that bubble gets to about 4800°C which is just about as hot as the sun. This stuns their prey, who are other shrimp so they are easy to catch. They also use this tactic as a form of protection against predators.
In the winter, foxes can be seen leaping into the air and diving head first into the snow. While this behavior can look silly to the outside observer, they actually have some pretty impressive adaptations that allow them to hunt in deep snow. Foxes have excellent hearing and can hear their prey 2-3 feet under the snow. Underneath the snow, a layer called the subnivean layer, is a microclimate that stays relatively consistently around 32°F (0°C), which protects rodents from the harsh winter temperatures as well as provides food from plants and insects hiding in the fallen leaves. The rodents also stay under the snow because if they were on top they would be easily spotted against a white snowy background. But this is not an issue for foxes, who can hear them scurrying around, and when they zero in on the location of their prey, they leap up into the air to gain enough momentum to dive head first into the snow and snatch their prey. Which as I said is a really impressive ability. But it just looks so funny!
The Anglerfish is one of the most recognizable creatures of the deep and they have a pretty remarkable hunting tactic. They have a rod that comes out of their head that lights up as a lure to attract their prey to them. Many animals are capable of bioluminescence on their own, but in the case of anglerfish, it's a collection of bacteria that create the alluring light. This light is created when the molecule luciferin reacts with the enzyme luciferase, which creates a photon of light. In addition to this lure, anglerfish have large mouths to help them catch whatever gets close enough. Interestingly it is only the females that have these hunting adaptations, because the role of a male, who is significantly smaller than the females, is to immediately find a female to attach themselves to them for the rest of their lives, essentially turning into a package of genetic material for reproduction.
These are just a few of the many amazing animal hunters. These predators have adapted to hunting in the ocean, in feet of snow, and also in ecosystems with predators much larger than them. By using their traits and variety of hunting techniques, these hunters successfully find food even in environments where it could be difficult to do so. It's not always easy to catch food, but it is essential for life, and nature always finds a way.
Black Footed Cat
Foxes diving in snow
Holland, Mary. Naturally Curious . North Pomfret: Trafalgar Square Books, 2010.