Guile over cruelty

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For a human or a carnivorous animal to simply chase its prey and kill is not difficult. All you require is strength, speed and the right weapons – whether knives, guns, claws or teeth. But an ambush requires great intelligence. Remember when, as children, you stood behind a door or pillar and waited for someone to come in so that you could jump out and scare them with a Boo !! An ambush requires that the predator know his prey’s habits , can anticipate his movement, has great patience and skill in hiding himself and can deceive while he lies in wait. So many insects, fish, reptiles , mammals have this ability. In fact most predators do not have a single approach to hunting.

They select the strategy to suit the circumstances – weather conditions, time of day, prey availability, fitness or age of the animal. Camouflage, or the ability to blend in with the environment, is used by both prey and hunters. Cats, from domestic to tigers are solitary hunters. They usually choose a tree or a bush that resembles their own skin ( which shows an awareness of their own bodies that needs no mirrors – unlike us) They wait under cover of vegetation, low hanging branches or natural feature overlooking the commonly used trail of its intended prey. As soon as the animal is within striking distance the cat will break cover lunging toward its startled victim.

The fishing cat positions itself above an open area of water, on an overhanging branch or rock and wait for a fish to swim close to the surface. The cat will then dive head first toward the fish, catching it in its jaws. In southern Africa, the black-footed cat lies in wait at the entrance to a burrow of rodents, ambushing them as they leave. Blending into the environment allows the predator to remain invisible to its prey until it is too late for escape. Fish are adept at this. The stonefish, one of the most venomous fish in the world, lies on reefs or the ocean floor, looking exactly like a rock. When prey swim up to the “rock,” the stonefish simply bites down on them. Flounders are flat fish you have to look hard to find. By snuggling just under the top layer of ocean floor sand or pebbles, the flounder is nearly totally invisible. When prey lands on top of them or above them, it becomes dinner. Mantis shrimp dig tunnels in the ocean floor from which they emerge with lightning speed to capture passing prey. The Ornate horned frog has a mouth that is more than half its fat, squat body. Too fat to run after its prey, it burrows into fallen leaves or mud with only its eyes sticking out and remains motionless in ambush.

The African bush viper uses its bright green coloring to imitate vines, and will often suspend itself from low hanging branches of trees to catch prey. The Yellow-Bellied Seasnake travel passively on the open ocean, floating with the currents and pretending to be a floating object. When fish come to the surface and hide under them, they ambush them. The anaconda of South America is the world’s heaviest snake. Any prey would see it coming a mile away so it stays submerged in mud waiting to ambush birds and animals that come to drink, and that’s why its eyes and nostrils are on the top of its head. A really clever ambush predator is the crocodile.

These enormously strong reptiles are capable of leaping out of the water to do serious damage to large prey, but their typical hunting style is much more subtle. Remaining motionless, the crocodile will float in the water, easily confusable with an inanimate log. If an animal wanders close enough, a single snap of the jaws is usually enough to kill it. The Allomerus decemarticulatus ant ambushes much larger prey such as locusts and crickets.The ants take hair from the host plant and bind them together with a fungus they grow to make a platform.

The ants hide in foxholes in the platform waiting for an insect to land. As soon as it does the ants grasp legs, antennae, or wings and stretch it on a rack while stinging it. Then they will dismember it on site and carry the parts back to the nest. Some ants hunts bees by setting ambushes. A bee flying home typically pauses at the entrance while a guard bee checks her chemical credentials as a nest mate. During this brief delay, the ant lunges, grabs the bee and stings her to death. However, the bees have developed a trick or two of their own. When an ant is hanging around the nest, 97% percent of returning bees interrupt their first swoop to the nest and veer away. Nearly half make a second approach, trying to slip in from the far side. Others land at a distance and walk home. This can save the bee if the ant keeps scanning the sky or moves on .

The ambush bug hides itself among flowers showing a great ability to recognize which flower is frequented by which insect. When the insect appears the ambush bug snatches the prey up with its knife like pincers and injects a poison into the body which paralyzes the victim while the ambush bug sucks out the juices. Chameleons and octopuses change the color and pattern of their skin to perfectly match and blend in with their environment. All animals are incredibly adaptive to their environment. Without guns, slaughterhouses, restaurants and bombs, they use their brains in order to find food. Could you think your way to survival ?

Maneka Gandhi writes weekly column Heads & Tails for the Kashmir Observer. To join her animal rights movement contact [email protected]

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