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Unbelievably Bizarre Animal Defense Mechanisms

Sonia Nair
Animals do not possess high-end warfare techniques to defend themselves from predators. However, most of them employ certain defense mechanisms, that may sometimes appear bizarre.
Survival of the fittest is the rule of nature. However, the weaker ones too have their own ways of increasing their chances of survival. Most of them exhibit certain weird defense mechanisms to escape or fight the predators.
For example, some animals are adapted to run fast, while others possess excellent camouflaging skills. Warning coloration is exhibited by the poison frog, coral snake, caterpillars, etc. Most of the lizard species are found to shed their tails, when they feel threatened. Termed as autotomy, this method of shedding body parts is seen in arthropods too.
The blowfish has certain physical features that make it look unpalatable, whereas the hagfish produces slime that can entangle the predator. Some animals also mimic other species, to deceive the predator. Chemical warfare is also not uncommon in the animal world. Some produce chemicals in their own body, while others use outside sources to derive the same.
In short, the defense mechanisms are also diverse, as the number of animal species on Earth. Here is a compilation of some of these tactics that could be really weird, far beyond your imagination.
Boxer crab
"I Can Sting You With My Pom-poms"
Also known as pom-pom crabs, boxer crabs look like they have pom-poms on their claws. In fact, they are not pom-poms or any extension of the crab's body, but sea anemones attached to their front claws, which they use to defend the predator. It is not their 'punch' that deters the predator, but the sting of the anemones attached to their claws.
In return of this favor, the sea anemones enjoy being carried by the crab, to different locations. This helps them in foraging.
Desert horned lizard
"I Can Shoot Blood From My Eyes"
Have you ever heard of an animal that shoots blood from its eyes to escape the predator? This bizarre defense mechanism is seen in certain species of horned lizards, like the Texas horned lizard. However, their first line of defense is their body color that serves the purpose of camouflaging.
They can also puff up their body and show off their spikes, thereby invoking a feeling in the predator that they are large and difficult to swallow. Their final tactic is to squirt blood from the eyes, which can go up to a distance of around five feet, to confuse the predator.
The blood is said to be foul-tasting, due to the presence of certain chemicals. These lizards can control the blood flow to their head and elevate the blood pressure, which results in the rupture of blood vessels around their eyes. This allows them to spray blood at the predator.
Leopard sea cucumber
"I Have the GUTS to Show Off"
When it comes to unusual defensive behavior, certain sea cucumber species (like, Bohadschia argus) are worth mentioning. They can scare away predators by ejecting some parts of their gut, through the anus.
When they feel threatened, these aquatic creatures contract their body muscles, and expel the Cuvierian tubules (fine tubes found inside their body) through the anal opening. These tubules turn into a tangy mass that can immobilize the predator.
In some cases, the tubules may also contain toxic chemicals. The sea cucumber escapes from the predator, after detaching the tubules from its body. The detached body parts are regenerated within few weeks.
A worker ant of the genus Camponotus
"Stay Away, Or I Will Explode"
Suicide bombing is not restricted to humans alone. Certain animal species too indulge in such activities, as a defense mechanism, to save their colony.
Some types of carpenter ants found in Malaysia, (like Camponotus saundersi) can explode themselves, when they feel threatened. This defensive behavior is exhibited by the worker ants that belong to certain species of the genus Camponotus. This could be their last line of defense, when they confront a predator.
As the ant explodes, a sticky glue-like secretion is sprayed into the surroundings. The glue can entangle and irritate the predator, as it contains toxic chemicals.
These exploding ants have large mandibular glands that produce the glue-like secretion. These oversized glands run through the entire length of the ants' body. The ants explode their body by contracting the abdominal muscles, thereby rupturing the glands, which results in spraying of the toxic goo.
Turkey Vulture
"I Can Puke Horrible, Smelly Stuff"
When confronted by a predator, the vulture vomits the undigested meat in its stomach. Apart from being foul-smelling, the vomit can also sting, if it happens to fall on the skin or the eyes of the predator. The horrible smell of the vomit is enough for most of the predators to leave the premises.
In fact, the Turkey Vulture has very few predators, and the actual threat is to its eggs. The foul-smelling vomit can deter the predator from raiding its nest. It is also believed that they cannot take off quickly, if they have undigested food in their stomach. This is another reason for this weird defense mechanism.
Bombardier beetle
"Beware of My Hot, Chemical Spray"
As the name rightly suggests, this beetle is capable of spraying a hot, toxic, chemical spray at the direction of the predator. This is done with much accuracy and speed. The most interesting fact is that two different chemicals are produced and stored (separately) in the body of the beetle.
When threatened, the beetle contracts its muscles, so as to release the chemicals from the storage chambers to the mixing chamber. The mixing chamber contains various enzymes and catalysts that are required for the reaction between the chemicals, to form the resultant toxic spray.
This reaction produces very high temperature that vaporizes the chemical mixture, thereby releasing gases. The high pressure inside the chamber causes the valve to open, and the spray is emitted at the predator. The ejection of this hot chemical spray is accompanied with a loud sound.
"I Have My Own Predator Repellant"
A very beautiful bird with a prominent plumage, the hoopoe is also known for its bizarre defense mechanism. The incubating females as well as the hatchlings have specialized glands that produce a foul-smelling secretion, when they feel threatened. They apply this secretion all over the plumage, so as to deter the predator.
The secretion that smells like rotten meat, is good enough to discourage the predator. It is also believed that this secretion has anti-bacterial properties. However, the production of this secretion is only temporary, and lasts till the young ones leave the nest.
It has been noted that hoopoe hatchlings can spray fecal matter at predators, as a method of defense. They may also use their bill for self defense.
Monarch butterfly
"I am Colorful, and TOXIC Too"
It is a common fact that certain animal species exhibit bright and conspicuous colors as a warning signal for predators. The monarch butterfly is one such species that uses its bright color as a defense mechanism. Its body contains certain toxic chemicals that it ingests from milkweed.
Adult monarch butterflies do not feed on milkweed, but they still have the toxic chemicals in their body. In fact, they feed on large amounts of milkweed, during their larval stage. The chemicals they ingest from this plant, are retained and stored for a long time.
Pygmy sperm whale
"I Make the Best Out of (My) Waste"
Pygmy sperm whales use their feces to escape the predators. As soon as they notice a potential predator nearby, these whales release the reddish-brown feces into the water and mix it with their tail, so as to form a cloud around them.
This fecal cloud will either conceal the whale from the predator, or let it escape. This method of defense is termed inking. If the predator happens to follow the whale, the latter may repeat 'inking' a few more times.
Elephant hawk-moth caterpillar
"I'm a Caterpillar in a Snake's Skin"
Is this a snake? No, this is one of those caterpillars that mimic snakes as a method of defense. The image shows an elephant hawk-moth caterpillar, which can grow up to a length of three inches. As the name implies, this caterpillar has an elephant-like snout and large patches on the anterior part of its body.
When the caterpillar senses the presence of a predator, it draws the snout inside, and puffs up the first segment of its body. In this posture, the caterpillar looks like a snake, with the patches forming false eyes. The predator may get confused for some time, and the caterpillar may get a chance to escape.
These are only a few examples of some bizarre animal defense techniques. While some animals use their body parts (like, claws, tail, horns, etc.) for counter attack, others adopt innovative methods to confuse or deter the predators.
Roaming around in groups is also a method to discourage the predators. These tactics may seem weird and bizarre to us, but they may help some hapless animals save their lives. After all, nothing is more important than survival.