Predators come in many sizes and shapes. They can be as tiny as a bug or as large as a polar bear. What does a ladybug eat? You're right, other animals!
What about that beautiful American robin that we welcome spring with? Are you getting the idea? Predators are animals that eat other animals. They're not bad guys.
What is a Predator?
They're just creatures trying to feed themselves; they get hungry just like you and me. They don't have the option of going to the grocery store or the drive-in. Predators are part of a food chain , the process of passing energy from one organism to the next. Plants are the first link in the food chain; they use the sun's energy to make food. Plants are called the producers.
Plant eaters, also called herbivores, enter the picture next. Predators such as birds and foxes join the food chain by eating the plant eaters and are known as primary consumers. These predators may become food for the next animal up the chain. Predators that eat primary consumers are known as secondary consumers, which are also eaten by tertiary consumers or quaternary consumers. All of these are just layers of animals that eat from the lower layers. Finally you have your apex predator. This is the predator at the top of the food chain. Most natural communities have several food chains that interconnect.
This is called a food web. When a food web is drawn, it looks like a pyramid with the apex predator at the top and the plants eaters at the bottom. Plant eaters are the most abundant part of the web. A food chain or a food web allows a small amount of the sun's energy to be passed along through each animal. When an animal dies, it decomposes , or breaks down, and provides the soil with nutrients that help plants to transform the sun's energy into food once again.
The relationship between predators and prey is often described as the balance of nature. A natural ecosystem does have a degree of balance — the number of plants and animals in an ecosystem tends to remain within a certain limit, which is not too great or not too small. Predators, however, are not the only factor that affects a population. A variety of things cause the abundance of a species, including predators, food availability, the competition with other species, disease, and even the weather. It is said that the predators in a particular area control the populations of prey species.
In this way, the prey species won't overpopulate and destroy the habitat. This seems logical enough, but it is too simple to fully explain what goes on in nature. One thing to remember is that populations of predators and prey do not remain constant. There are many factors which cause their respective numbers to rise and fall. Predators can be found on any continent of the world. Hot desert climates, icy cold polar climates, rainforests, jungles, mountain tops, valleys, oceans, and lakes. Predators are found in nearly every habitat known to us. Animals with an internal skeleton made of bone are called vertebrates.
Vertebrates include mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fish. Although vertebrates represent only a very small percentage of all animals, their size and mobility often allow them to dominate their environment. Animals that do not have a back bone are called invertebrates. Invertebrates are cold-blooded — this means their body temperature depends on the temperature of their environment. Some major groups of invertebrates include amoebas, sponges, jellyfish, corals, tapeworms, flukes, insects, arachnids, crustaceans, mollusks, and echinoderms.
There are more species of invertebrates than any other group on the earth.
What was Earth's first predator and when did it live?
Learn more about invertebrates and find out about the kinds of animals that fall into this category by visiting The National Wildlife Federation. The Venus fly trap is one you've probably heard of.
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They are small plants found in North and South Carolina. They grow in nutrient poor soil, so they need insects to provide what they need to survive. In Idaho, we have two carnivorous plants, sundews and bladderworts. They can be found in bogs near wetlands. Each plant has unique ways to catch and eat food.
To learn more about carnivorous plants, visit botany. The way a predator hunts, catches and kills food is determined by many factors such as the adaptations of the predator and the prey, and the type of habitat they live in. The strategies commonly used by predators are:. Hawks are among the many predators that catch their prey by chasing it.
Chasing takes both time and effort to make a successful capture. To be successful, predators that chase their prey must concentrate on species that will provide enough nutrition to offset the energy burned while chasing. This is one reason why the hawk tends to eat more rodents and birds than grasshoppers. Grasshoppers just don't provide enough food value to justify the effort it takes to catch them. Herons use a different technique, the stalk. Standing motionless in shallow water or wading slowly along the shore, the heron patiently searches for prey.
When a heron sees its prey it captures it with a quick lunge of its long, sharp beak. This method does not require much energy.
BBC - Earth - What was Earth's first predator and when did it live?
The downfall is the amount of time it takes to search for food. A stalking predator can afford to choose smaller prey and still meet its energy requirements. The alligator prefers to lie still and wait. This method of hunting requires little effort, but chances of getting food are low. The cold-blooded alligator has minimal energy requirements.
It can get by with infrequent meals. Most ambush hunters are fairly small because a successful ambush depends on the predator avoiding detection until it strikes. Some animals hunt in teams. Wolves, lions, hyenas, coyotes and killer whales will usually live and hunt in family teams. Not only can they pursue larger and sometimes faster prey, but family groups can protect their little ones from other large predators. There's even a tropical insect that hunts as part of a team. South American army ants travel in the tens of thousands and devour every living thing in their path — insects, snakes, livestock, rats and mice.
There aren't many creatures that can withstand marching army ants! Adaptations are physical characteristics or behaviors that help a plant or animal survive. Adaptations may help an animal move, reproduce, secure its food, or defend itself against its enemies. Brought together by a common need — to locate, subdue, and consume their prey — many predators display similar adaptations. Vision is often the most important sense for a predator. A predator's eyes are usually located in front of its head. The forward location of the eyes gives an animal binocular-type vision.
The area that each eye sees overlaps, so the brain receives two slightly different messages about the same scene. This helps a predator determine how far away prey is. It also tells the predator how fast its prey is moving. Birds and insects must have the ability to catch prey in the air. A bird of prey's telescope-like vision can be eight times stronger than ours. Some predators rely on more sets of eyes than just one!
Spiders and scorpions have clusters of six to eight eyes. Some of the eyes form the image. Others estimate distance, and still others detect motion. It's amazing though, even with eight eyes, a spider can only see about 1 foot in front of its face. Predators which hunt at night nocturnal predators have special mirror-like structures in the back of their eyes.
These structures help the animal to see in the dark. Deep sea animals have the same structures. Most predators have a very good sense of hearing. In mammals, external ear flaps can be swiveled forward or backward in order to pinpoint the direction of a sound. The ears of bats are often highly specialized, with strange shapes that help catch the echoes of the calls they make as they fly.
Birds can hear very well, too. Owls are thought to have the most outstanding hearing of any animal.
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Their ears are offset, which means one is higher than the other. Some animals don't need ears to hear.
Instead, they rely on vibrations they feel in their bodies. This is another way of pinpointing the source of sounds. Ground vibrations from moving prey animals are transmitted through the bones of salamanders and snakes to the nerves near their ears.
Sharks can monitor vibrations in the water with a lateral-line system. The game is up for untold numbers of deep-sea fish, mountain-dwelling hares, subterranean earthworms and high-flying songbirds. They are all seconds away from becoming dinner for predators like lions, eagles and sharks.
But when did this carnage begin? Have predators stalked the Earth since the origin of life itself? Or was our primordial planet once a Garden of Eden where species lived in peaceful co-existence? The truth is, no one actually knows for sure. But evolutionary biologists have learned enough about the history of life on Earth to begin the hunt for the first predator. Their work suggests it was about as far removed in appearance from today's killers as it's possible to imagine.
View image of Lions are among the fiercest modern predators Credit: Before we pick up the trail, it might help to spell out what a predator is. According to most biologists, predation must involve the death of one living thing at the hands or teeth, or claws of another , which has to gain some nutritional benefit from the kill.
A lion is a predator because it kills and eats a gazelle, but the gazelle is not a predator, because it doesn't have to kill the grasses it eats. What sort of traces would the first predator have left behind? We often think of predators using jaws and sharp teeth to rip chunks out of their prey, so maybe we should look for the oldest jaws and teeth. In fact, just last year, we learned that modern vertebrate jaws date back million years and that teeth appeared million years ago. But predators can kill without inflicting physical injury.
Think of the predatory pitcher plants that trap, drown and devour insects. So if predators don't need teeth and jaws, they might have appeared long before the million-year mark. It turns out they really did. Palaeontologists have collected fossils of predators that existed tens of millions of years before teeth evolved. These predators date right back to the first abundant animal life, about million years ago. View image of Anomalocaris may have been the first big predator Credit: They are known collectively as the anomalocaridids, a name that translates as "abnormal shrimp".
They grew up to 2 m 6ft in length, and had good eyes and a pair of dextrous graspers near their mouth. They may have lacked teeth and jaws but they were undoubtedly terrors of the seas they occupied. Originally palaeontologists thought a hunting anomalocaridid would have used the formidable ring of plates around its mouth to crush its prey. But disappointingly, an analysis a few years ago suggested that these plates were too weak to crush anything.
The anomalocaridids may actually have used their mouths to suck up soft worms from the muddy ocean floor. But were these worm-sucking anomalocaridids the original predators? In July , we learned something new that helps answer the question. An exceptionally well-preserved fossil revealed that, for all their sophisticated appearance, anomalocaridids had simple brains.
What's more, other well-preserved fossils from the same time period show that the animals living alongside the anomalocaridids - including some that the predators might have eaten - had relatively complex brains in comparison. This actually fits with what we know about today's predators, says Nicholas Strausfeld at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who helped describe the anomalocaridid brain. This shows that predatory behaviour can occur in relatively simple species: But predatory behaviour may be among the first feeding strategies to appear in ecosystems.
View image of The Ediacarans were some of the first complex organisms Credit: Ryan Somma, CC by 2. In fact, there is evidence that predators existed before the anomalocaridids. Animals first began to grow hard shells and exoskeletons about million years ago.
Some of the fossils of these earliest exoskeletons are punctured with circular holes about 0. These are almost certainly marks left by predators that bored through the tough armour to feast on the soft tissue hidden within. The borings are all similar in shape, which suggests they were made by a single predatory species. We don't yet know what it looked like. But the borings it made are currently the earliest good evidence for relatively large predators, says Leighton.
That makes the mystery species responsible a much better candidate for the title of first predator than the anomalocaridids. A look at slightly older rocks and fossils strengthens the case. Between about and million years ago the world was occupied by a peculiar collection of organisms that have been labelled the Ediacaran biota. The Ediacaran organisms were large — some were over 1 m 3 ft long — soft-bodied, and mostly incapable of movement.
They should have been torn to shreds by predators, but they weren't. In the s, Mark McMenamin at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts suggested that the Ediacarans escaped the attention of predators simply because there weren't any — or at least, none large enough to pose any real threat. These ecosystems may have been peaceful live-and-let-live worlds in which each Ediacaran used photosynthesis to meet its own energy needs.
McMenamin dubbed his idea "the Garden of Ediacara". In the 30 years since, geologists have found little evidence that large predators were active during the Ediacaran period. That suggests McMenamin's ideas may be correct. If they are, we have identified the point in geological time — about million years ago — when large predators first appeared. View image of An amoeba with a shell Credit: But not all predators are large.
The world of microbes is teeming with tiny killers. They might be too small to inflict damage on something the size of an Ediacaran, but these predators can still wreak havoc at the microscopic scale - and they were doing so long before the Ediacarans evolved.