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Minggu, 08 Maret 2009

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are very important to all animal life. Animals must eat to survive. With predators always on the lookout for a meal, prey must constantly avoid being eaten. Any adaptation the prey uses adds to the chances of survival for the species. Some adaptations are defense mechanisms which can give the prey an advantage against enemies.

Leopard camouflaged in the grass.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Gary Stolz

Defense Mechanisms

There are several ways animals avoid falling prey to a predator. One way is very direct and comes naturally. Imagine you are a rabbit and you have just noticed a fox preparing to attack. What would be your initial response? Right, you'd run. Animals can use speed as a very effective means of escaping predators. Remember, you can't eat what you can't catch!

Another defense mechanism is camouflage or protective coloration. One form, cryptic coloration, allows the animal to blend in with its environment to avoid being detected. It is important to note that predators also use cryptic coloration to avoid detection by unsuspecting prey.

Trickery can also be used as a formidable defense. False features that appear to be enormous eyes or appendages can serve to dissuade potential predators. Mimicking an animal that is dangerous to a predator is another effective means of avoiding being eaten.

Physical or chemical combat are other types of defense mechanisms. Some animals' physical features make them a very undesirable meal. Porcupines, for example, make it very difficult for predators with their extremely sharp quills. Similarly, predators would have a tough time trying to get to a turtle through its protective shell.

Chemical features can be just as effective. We all know the hazards of scaring a skunk! The chemicals released result in a not so pleasant aroma that an attacker will never forget. The dart frog also uses chemicals (poisons secreted from its skin) to deter attackers. Any animals that eat these small frogs are likely to get very sick or die.

Predator-Prey Relationship

To sum it all up, the predator-prey relationship is important to maintaining balance among different animal species. Adaptations that are beneficial to prey, such as chemical and physical defenses, ensure that the species will survive. At the same time, predators must undergo certain adaptive changes to make finding and capturing prey less difficult.

Without predators, certain species of prey would drive other species to extinction through competition. Without prey, there would be no predators. Thus, this relationship is vital to the existence of life as we know it.

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