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Nature is a beautiful thing, but it can also be incredibly dangerous. If you’re a bug or beast then there’s usually something out there that wants to make a meal of you, so it’s vital to have a way to protect yourself. While we’re all familiar with things like venomous bites and sharp claws, these aren’t the only ways animals are defending themselves. Some have much more unusual tactics.
Animals with Unconventional Self-Defense Mechanisms
From shooting blood from the eyes to producing electric shocks, there are animals out there that have a very unique way of defending themselves from predators. But while they might seem weird to you and I, there’s no denying that these methods of protection are incredibly effective.
1. Bombardier Beetles
There are around 500 species of bombardier beetles, and their unusual defense mechanism is given away in their name. These bugs are found all around the world apart from Antarctica, and their defense strategy is so effective that they have almost no predators.
Amazingly, bombardier beetles are able to spray super-heated chemicals from their abdomens that send predators running in the opposite direction. What’s more, while small, the bombardier beetle can scare off much larger predators with its perfect aim by using its legs to direct the toxic concoction right toward the offender.
The chemical mixture contains hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone which, when expelled, is heated up to around 212°F (100°C) as a result of the energy involved. While the substance emitted can be irritating to human skin, it’s capable of killing smaller animals and insects upon contact.
Imagine trying to eat a meal that was covered in thick slime. I wouldn’t fancy it much and neither do the sea lions, dolphins, octopuses, and other predators that prey on the hagfish; a species of jawless fish, sometimes called the snot snake.
These strange-looking creatures are found largely in the Pacific Ocean and are bottom dwellers that live up to 5,577 feet (1,700 meters) below the surface.
When hagfish are attacked by a toothed predator, like a shark, their first line of defense is their flaccid skin that’s difficult for teeth to penetrate. However, once the attack has started, these eel-like creatures use cells called skeins (a single hagfish may have as many as 200 of these glands) to produce a thick slime that fills the mouth and gills of their attacker. While this slime simply deters most predators, it can be fatal to certain species.
3. Horned Lizards
If your eyes started squirting blood, I bet you’d be rather concerned. But for the horned lizards of Mexico and the southern United States, it’s all part of a normal day. If you can call being almost eaten normal, that is.
These striking spiky lizards largely rely on camouflage and staying still to avoid being spotted by a predator. But when the moment calls for it, they’ll unleash a bloody attack from their eyes!
Animals like bobcats and coyotes might go for a horned lizard, but they’ll live to regret it. The lizard, as a last line of defense, allows the animal to take its head in its mouth (it’s unlikely they’ll bite down too hard because of those horns. The lizard then shoots blood from its eyes by closing off blood vessels and increasing pressure.
When it enters the predator’s mouth, the horned lizard has the chance to escape, leaving its attacker trying to get rid of the vile taste.
4. Sea Hares
The sea hare, a large mollusk related to the sea slug with ‘ears’ coming from the top of its head, are actually pretty good at camouflaging themselves due to their brownish color. By the way, those ears aren’t actually for hearing, they’re for detecting chemicals in the water.
Anyway, when camouflage doesn’t work, the sea hare has another method to deter predators such as lobsters and starfish. It uses a process known as phagomimicry, which involves the creature letting out a puff of ink-like fluid filled with chemicals that mimic food. It’s even been shown to reduce the senses of the predator.
They do this using their opaline gland, which releases ink that is high in amino acids, therefore mimicking food. During an attack, this confuses the predator and gives our gastropod friend a chance to escape.
5. Electric Eels
Electric eels are almost a thing of legend, and claims are always being made about them. One scientist put one of these theories to the test that an electric eel can produce more power than a TASER, and he was shocked (excuse the pun) to find out that this was true. According to his findings, these eels can deliver up to eight and a half times more of a jolt than a TASER.
But how do they do it?
Well, it’s all to do with how their nerve fibers connect to the electrolytes on either side of the eels’ body which creates a positive charge and therefore discharges electricity. The eel uses this mechanism when it feels threatened but it also puts it to good use when hunting prey.
With such a shocking response, you might wonder what predates these animals. The truth is that they really have no known predators, although a large mammal might give it a go if it sees an eel in shallow water.
6. Sea Cucumbers
Generally speaking, sea cucumbers aren’t the fastest creatures on the planet, but research has shown that they’re able to fill themselves with water to improve their buoyancy, traveling up to 50 miles (80 km) a day on the ocean current.
However, they are susceptible to predation by crabs, sea turtles, fish, and sometimes even sharks, so how do they defend themselves?
In a process called evisceration, the sea cucumber spews out part of its guts from its butt in order to scare predators. This might seem gruesome, but within a few days, the body has repaired itself, and the sea cucumber is good to go.
7. Cone Snails
The humble cone snail; it doesn’t look dangerous but it’s certainly one of the most interesting marine mollusks. And if you live in the Indo-Pacific regions, you’d better watch out when you head to the beach because cone snail venom is known to cause serious problems in humans, even death!
There are around 700 species of cone snail and they’re all venomous. They eject a deadly harpoon (an adapted radular tooth) which is used to ensnare prey but they’ll also use this same method when trying to protect themselves.
The cone snail venom contains more than 100 short proteins (called peptides) which act as neurotoxins. So, while many species may have beautiful ornate shells, it’s best to leave them well alone.
When you think about archers, you’ll imagine a person with a bow and arrow, shooting at a target. Well, that’s exactly where these aquatic creatures take their name from. While they might not be equipped with a weapon, they are able to shoot jets of water from their mouths.
They do this for two reasons; primarily to knock insects off the trees around the water for food, but also to warn off predators.
What’s truly amazing is that these fish, found in Northern Australia and Southeast Asia, are so accurate that their aim almost never fails. Plus, they can knock a target off afrom as far as 9.8 feet (3 meters). Moreover, the speed of the water jet increases as it moves through the air! This is thanks to their powerful jaws and elongated mouths.
The fish will take water into its mouth and place it in a groove along the roof. It will then place its tongue along this groove, making the perfect shape for shooting water; just like a super soaker!
If there’s one animal that we all know makes a real stink, it’s the skunk. But they don’t do this for no reason. Skunks only spray a noxious liquid from their anal glands when they feel threatened.
Found in North America, the skunk also has coloration and patterns that serve as a warning to predators such as bobcats, mountain lions, dogs, and owls. But if they do not heed this warning and approach the skunk, they’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
On either side of the anus are glands that produce a foul smelling substance containing various chemicals, including thiols (a type of sulfur) which are particularly bad-smelling. However, while most people are scared of skunks for this very reason, they’re actually pretty docile around humans, and they’ll display their discomfort long before they spray by hissing, stomping, and puffing up their fur. So you’ve got plenty of time to get away.
Not only the world’s tallest animal, the giraffe is also one of nature’s most beautiful creatures. While they may seem pretty passive, you wouldn’t want to mess with one because you’re sure to get a swift kick!
Yes, powerful kicks are one of the ways that these large terrestrial mammals protect themselves against predators like crocodiles, lions, and even humans. Using its front feet, the giraffe can generate enough force to kill a lion with a single kick! Not only that, but they’re incredibly speedy and, once they’ve kicked out, they can make a dash for it and escape.
If that doesn’t work, they’ve also got their long necks to protect them. Males usually use their necks during a fight, but they’ll also use them to ward off predators. The giraffe’s neck can weigh as much as 600 lbs (272 kg); imagine being hit with that weight and force!
11. Boxer Crabs
With beautiful coloration and a mosaic-like pattern, the boxer crab is one of the most popular species of aquarium pets. Sometimes called the pom-pom crab, these unique animals have one of the most unusual methods of self-defense.
They carry sea anemones in their claws, and they’ll even go as far as stealing other crabs’ anemones to split them and create a clone. It’s easy to see where the crab gets its name, as these anemones look just like little boxing gloves!
When approached by a predator, including many carnivorous fish, the boxer crab will wave its makeshift weapons in the attacker’s face to scare it away.
12. Komodo Dragons
The komodo dragon is one of the most lethal reptiles in the world; and the largest. These gigantic lizards that measure up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) in length, are found in Indonesia and they’re super dangerous.
Not that anything would be silly enough to attack something that looks like a dinosaur, right? Well, to a degree this is true as adults are apex predators, but the young komodos are often preyed on by snakes, wild boars, and wild dogs.
However, the komodo dragon has a potent venomous bite that causes a slow and painful death. Originally, it was thought that it was the high levels of bacteria in the mouth that caused fatalities of komodo dragon bites. But in 2009, scientists proved that they indeed possess venom glands. Unlike other creatures, the komodo dragon delivers a devastating wound and allows its venomous saliva to seep in.
Only five human deaths have been reported as a result of komodo dragon bites. However, this is largely because they live in such remote locations, so rarely come into contact with people.
While this creature, a type of scorpion, may have an odd name, it’s certainly fitting for its unique method of defending itself. That’s right, the vinegaroon, or whip tailed scorpion, shoots acetic acid from its tail, which is pretty much vinegar!
These animals have a pygidial gland at the base of the body which is responsible for producing this substance and releasing it during an attack. What’s amazing is that vinegaroons have an incredible aim, and they’re very disciplined with their special talent, only shooting when they’re physically touched.
It’s enough to ward off a predator even if the substance doesn’t touch them because the smell lingers in the air. And if the attacker doesn’t give up at the first hurdle, the vinegaroon will keep shooting because it’s got about 19 sprays in it before it can do no more!
14. Hairy Frogs
Sometimes called the wolverine frog, the hairy frog is an amphibian species found in Central Africa. While it doesn’t actually have hairs, male frogs do have hair-like structures that contain blood vessels thought to increase the surface area for absorbing oxygen.
They feed on a diet of slugs, beetles, spiders, and grasshoppers, but they’re also a target for predators themselves, including humans. In Cameroon, it has long been believed that roasting and eating these frogs improves fertility.
When attacked, the hairy frog literally goes into self-destruct mode by breaking its toe bones which then protrude, acting as claws. These bones are connected to the surrounding tissue by a nodule, which is what the frog breaks when it’s threatened. However, all is not lost as the tissue will regenerate, and it’s believed that the bony claws eventually retract on their own, leaving the frog in perfect condition.
15. Iberian Ribbed Newts
Found in a very specific region of the Iberian peninsula, the Iberian ribbed newt has one of the most unusual ways of defending itself.
Along either side of the newt’s body are a set of tubercles which allow the animal to poke out its sharp ribs to stab any predators that try to take hold of it. Not only this, but the Iberian newt also secretes poison at the same time as sticking out its point ribs; a double edged sword, if you will.
Sadly, these creatures are listed as near threatened by the IUCN Red List and are predated by birds, mammals, and fish, which often prey on their eggs.
Have you ever heard the term playing possum? It’s something people say when someone pretends to be sleeping or even dead. But it’s not just a random saying; it actually comes from the fact that opossums literally play dead when they’re threatened.
In a phenomenon known as apparent death, the opossum is unable to control this, and scientists now strongly believe it to be an involuntary reaction. When they encounter a threat, the possum flops onto the floor, empties its bowels, slows its breathing, and doesn’t even react when poked.
They go into a state called thanatosis, which they can maintain for hours at a time until they are certain that the danger is no longer present. The idea is that a predator enjoys the thrill of the chase, so a dead possum is of no interest to them.
However, there are many instances of possums feeding on roadkill and reacting in this very way, not knowing that the oncoming car isn’t a threat that will be put off, and they sadly end up dead anyway.
17. Pygmy Sperm Whales
When you think of a creature that releases ink, you’d probably think of a squid or an octopus, but there is a species of whale, the pygmy sperm whale that also uses this defense mechanism.
These whales are found all over the world, along the coasts of North and South America, Asia, and Australia. They’re often hunted by great white sharks and orcas, but thanks to the ink sacs in their lower intestinal tract, they’re often saved from becoming a meal.
In a very similar way to squid, these whales can release up to 3.17 gallons (12 liters) of dark ink during an attack. The idea of the ink is that it makes the water much darker so the predator cannot see as well, giving the whale a chance to quickly swim away.
18. Slow Loris
Looking at the adorable slow loris, it would be difficult to believe that this animal could be in any way a threat. Not only are these animals incredibly territorial but they’ll put up a good fight when they’re under attack.
Their venom glands are actually in their elbows, so the slow loris has to groom itself in order to extract venom, which it then stores in a structure in the mouth called the tooth comb. Generally docile, they’ll only bite when they feel threatened, but when they do, this highly toxic venom, containing more than 200 compounds, is injected. It can cause pain, illness, and even death, not to mention it stinks!
Bigger is always better when it comes to intimidating a predator, but pufferfish are generally quite small. Not to worry though as they have a mechanism that allows them to blow up to more than three times their original size!
Initially, a pufferfish will use a burst of speed to try to evade an attack, but if this doesn’t work, it’s able to fill its stretchy stomach with water, which is what causes it to blow up into a ball. What’s more, these fish are spiny, and their spines stick out when the fish is inflated, making them highly undesirable to eat.
You may have heard that, while pufferfish is edible, it has to be properly prepared otherwise it may kill you. That’s because these sea critters also have neurotoxins that make them distasteful to predators. Although not all pufferfish species have this trait. For humans, TTX, the toxin they possess, can be fatal.
20. Malaysian Exploding Ants
There are almost 14,000 species of ants in the world, and one of the most interesting is the Malaysian exploding ant. Found in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, around 15 species of exploding ants literally blow themselves up during an attack.
And it doesn’t end there. They not only rupture their bodies in a suicidal attempt to avoid being eaten, but it’s also chemical warfare. They’re able to release a toxic chemical concoction that can either deter or even kill a predator.
Of course, ants live in a hierarchical society, and not all members of the colony are expected to play the martyr. It’s only minor workers that have to self-sacrifice for the good of their brothers and sisters.
21. Hognose Snakes
Earlier, I talked about the opossum that likes to play dead, but this isn’t the only critter out there that uses this defense mechanism.
Hognose snakes are found in floodplains, sandy areas, and scrubland and grow to around 35 inches (89 cm). While this is a good size for a snake, they’re still predated by animals such as birds of prey and some larger snake species.
These snakes do have a mild venom, although it is only effective for amphibians. In order to put a predator off, the hognose snake will throw itself around and then flip over and play dead, as you can see in the below video.
Sometimes, the display is even more dramatic, with the snake first hissing and oozing an unpleasant secretion before finally faking its own death!
22. Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko
With a name like the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, it’ll come as no surprise that this reptile has a pretty demonic reaction to being attacked. They’re found only in Madagascar and are usually predated by birds, small rodents, and snakes.
But if these animals get too close, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko opens its mouth and starts screaming! Yes, you read that right. Not only this, but within the mouth sits a hellish-looking red tongue and lots of gross mucus that would quickly send any predator packing.
However, before this response, predators need to find the gecko in the first place. Aptly named, these lizards have bodies that perfectly mimic leaves, with the tail being the most impressive part of its camouflage. Not only does it look leaf-like, but some portions even mimic rotting leaves, so it truly blends in with its surroundings!
While they might look frightening, these geckos only grow to around 3.9 inches (10 cm) in length!
The hawkmoth is found in several locations around the world, but mainly in the tropics. These beautiful moths are often predated by bats, but it seems they have adapted a very special technique to confuse their primary predators.
Anti-bat sounds! That’s right, since bats hunt using echolocation, it only takes an interference in this to throw them off the scent of their next meal.
Even more interesting is how these bats produce these confusing signals; they rub their genitals on their abdomens. It’s also thought that these sounds potentially warn the bat that the moths are able to fly and have barbed legs.