BIG LIST: Angry Animals (Vol. II)
A couple of months ago we took a look at some of the animal kingdom’s freakiest defence mechanisms. But since it turns out some Australian cuttlefish can put Soi Bangla’s katoey to shame with their gender bending abilities, we thought we’d revisit the subject.
Friday 13 July 2012, 12:26PM
■ Light my fire: As well as having a terrible name, dinoflagellates also have probably the worst defence mechanism ever. Basically, any sudden movement neear these plankton causes a near-blinding flash of light that shines through their entire body.
In the presence of a plankton-eating creature, that’s kind of like cage-diving with Great White sharks, if the cage was made out of fresh meat and you were carrying a giant sign saying ‘eat me’ written in fluorescent blood.
However, while the light may betray their position, it’s also the dinoflagellate way of screaming ‘eat me’ in the most literal yet also most malicious sense possible. Because while the dinoflagellates’ predator may devour the shiny little critters, with all that bio-luminescence now inside them, the predators are now prey to other, larger predators, and may as well have strapped a rescue flare on their chest and squeaky clown shoes on each foot.
■ Fight or flight? The term fulmar actually means ‘foul gull’ in the Old Norse language, and when some Viking dude from the 1200s calls something gross, you know you’re in trouble. When confronted with anything moving, the fulmar – a species of sea bird – chick will projectile vomit an oily secretion all over the face of the approaching animal.
That orange filth creates a rotten fish smell, but this little birdy’s gut oil is also incredible sticky, and if it gets into the feathers of other birds, not only are they unable to fly, but it causes them to lose their buoyancy and they will eventually fall into the water and drown.
Mind you, if a bird’s just spewed sticky orange filth liquid down your throat, death is probably the easiest way out.
■ Head in the clouds: The sperm whale. We know what you’re thinking, but get your mind out of the gutter – this time we’re talking about poop. That’s because dwarf and pygmy sperm whales literally crap themselves to defend against predators. When threatened, the whales secrete the vile poopy concoction, then stir the water up with their fins to create a giant poop cloud.
Then they hide inside the cloud until the danger has passed. The dwarf and pygmy sperm whales are capable of producing enough poo to, well, conceal a whale, and they’re able to repeat that process again and again. The moral of the story is that if you see a dwarf sperm whale in the ocean, swim the other way.
■ Blood thicker than venom: Being crazily venemous should be enough defence for any animal. But the hognose snake isn’t any animal. In fact, it’s significantly more useless than any other venemous animal, because its small fangs are found all the way at the back of its mouth, and if you’re sticking anything that far down a snake’s throat, you’ve probably already tossed caution to the wind anyway.
Instead, they have developed a defence strategy that takes ‘playing dead’ to a bizarre new level. It will convulse wildly, flip over on to its back and lie nearly motionless even when prodded. In some cases it will even spew blood, which frankly, is way scarier than the venom anyway.
■ Life’s a drag: The dresser crab has precisely two purposes in life: to stay alive, and to be absolutely fabulous. There are many creatures in the animal world able to hide themselves using pigments and mimicry, but that’s so last season. The dresser crab instead utilises its knowledge of accessorising.
As it travels around varied environments, it scans for any objects that match the surroundings that it can attach to the velcro-like patches on its exoskeleton. Should it sense danger it will freeze dead in its tracks and flawlessly, sassily merge into the background.