Predators

What is a Predator?

Predators are those species that stalk and consume certain other organisms for food. The species which the predators eat are considered as the prey. Predators usually fall into the carnivorous or omnivorous categories. Lions, tigers, sharks, snakes are some examples of predators.

Predators may also fall prey to other organisms, depending on where they fall in the food chain. For instance, a snake is the predator of a mouse, but it is also the prey of an eagle, as seen in the image below.

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Predation Definition Biology

The definition of a food chain is a system in which a small animal is a food for a larger animal that is, in turn, the food for an even larger animal. The word food chain defines the sequence in which the animals rely on one another to fulfil their nutritional needs. Every ecosystem or community is composed of one or more food chains. Most food chains begin with autotrophs (organisms that generate their own food), to primary consumers (herbivores, secondary consumers (carnivores and omnivores), tertiary consumers, and finally reach the decomposers. 

Predation, in biology, can be defined as a relationship between two different species organisms in which one of them acts as a predator capturing and feeding on the other organism, which serves as a prey.

It refers to the interdependent relationship between the two organisms, the prey, and the predator, where energy flows from one organism to another. The predator is the organism that feeds on the other organisms, and the prey is the organism that is eaten by the predator. The prey experiences a loss of energy and health, whereas the predator is in benefit.

Different Types of Predators

There are various types of predators on Earth, owing to the massive biological diversity seen on our planet. All these predators can be broadly classified into three categories. These categories have been described below.

Herbivores

Herbivores are animals that obtain all their nutrition from only plants and plant-based sources. Herbivores are the primary consumers in a food chain. This category includes animals that consume plants and plant products, such as cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, deer and many more. This is helping the prey (in this case, the plants) also. For example, many herbivores disperse the seeds of the fruits as they move. Those seeds germinate and ultimately grow as a new plant.

Carnivores

A carnivore is an animal eating a diet that consists mainly of meat, whether it comes from live animals or from dead animals (scavenging). Some species are deemed carnivores even if their diets include extremely limited quantities of meat (e.g., parasitic arthropods such as spiders who only ingest tiny vertebrate prey). Some carnivores supplement their diet with plants too. A carnivore can be a secondary or tertiary consumer in the food chain. Carnivorous predators kill their prey and consume it. This category includes large animals such as tigers and lions.

Omnivores

An omnivore is an organism, whose diet is constituted from both plant and animal sources. Their normal diet incorporates plant and animal matter, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, fish, and other meats. Various animals, such as bears, badgers, hedgehogs, skunks, sloths, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, rabbits, and rodents, are omnivorous in the wild. Members of the Hominid family are also omnivores, including humans, chimpanzees, and orangutans.

Parasites

These predators live within the host's body and derive nutrients for survival and reproduction from its body. The host experiences a loss of energy in this but does not often get killed, whereas the parasite is benefited. Roundworms, leeches, ticks, lice, and mites are examples of this category.

Regardless of their type, all predators are heterotrophs, i.e., they rely on another organism to obtain nutrition to sustain themselves. 

Predator Adaptations

Predators use various types of adaptations to make it easier for them to capture the prey. Some of these adaptations are listed below.

Camouflage

The predators use camouflage to help them hide from the prey. This enables them to take advantage of the element of surprise and make a sudden attack. This also prevents them from facing any dangerous defenses that a predator could have. For example, a tiger’s stripes allow it to stalk the prey undetected in the tall grass or the dense jungle. 

Mechanical Adaptations

The mechanical adaptations of predators, such as sharp teeth, clawed paws, dense fur, and superior speed and power, enable them to exercise control over the prey. The speed of the cheetah allows it to outrun its prey and catch it. 

Chemical Adaptations

Chemical adaptations to kill the prey include venom, toxin, and poison. They have also developed chemical modifications to defend them from the chemical defenses of the prey. For example, monarch butterflies feed on a dairy herb containing poison. They have evolved in such a way that they are no more affected by it.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Explain the Difference Between Small Predators and Large Predators?

Large Predators

The large predators have special adaptations that help them to kill their prey, with minimal damage to themselves. Some of the large predators found on Earth are polar bears, killer whales, and great white sharks. The polar bear feeds predominantly on seals. The killer whales consume seals, sea lions, fish, and so on. The great white sharks are by far the most terrifying predator of the ocean and consume almost every life form.

Small Predators

Small predators are rarely responsible for mass destruction. Sea stars, for example, feed primarily on different shellfish types. The ladybug is the smallest predator that feeds on insects called aphids that eat plants. 

2. What are Some of the Differences Between Herbivores, Carnivores, and Omnivores?

  • Herbivores are those animals that consume only plants, parts of the plants, or products generated from the plants. They do not consume other animals at all. Some of the common examples of herbivores are cow, elephant, deer, etc. 

  • Carnivores are those animals who consume only other animals. They do not consume plants or plant products as a part of their diet, for example, lion, tiger, lizard, etc. 

  • Omnivores are those animals that consume both plants as well as other animals regularly as a part of their diet—for example, human beings, dogs, bears, etc.