Animal Defense Mechanisms

Great Horned Owl Chicks
These great horned owl chicks are all snuggled up together in their nest in a hole in the tree. Their coloring camouflages them in their environment. Scott Suriano/Moment/Getty Images

Defense mechanisms are very important to all animal life. Animals in every biome must eat to survive. With predators being high on the food chain and always on the lookout for a meal, prey must constantly avoid being eaten. Adaptations that prey employ add to the chances of survival for the species. Some of these adaptations include defense mechanisms that can give  prey an advantage against their enemies.

Types of 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 and to mask its identity. This helps them to avoid being detected. For example, some animals appear to be leaves by their visual appearance as well as their behavior. It is important to note that predators also use cryptic coloration to avoid detection by unsuspecting prey.

Playing Dead
Some animals pretend to be dead when faced with danger. This type of adaption is known as thanatosis.

Oppossums and snakes can even emit fluid that produces a foul smell. This tricks predators into thinking that the animal is dead.

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 Features
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
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.

Warning Calls
Some animals sound the alarm when danger approaches. For example, oxpeckers (birds that live in mutualistic relationships with grazing animals) will give a loud warning call when predators get too close.

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. The animal organisms in such an environment could become endangered or even extinct. The predator-prey relationship ensures that the cycle of nutrients in bomes continues. Thus, this relationship is vital to the existence of life as we know it.