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The Big List: The great escapes

In order to get away from predators, these animals have come up with truly ingenious abilities


By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Wednesday 14 May 2014, 09:59AM


Boom boom

As a last ditch measure, the Camponotus Saundersi – better known as the blast ant – will literally explode to prevent itself being eaten. The suicidal Malaysian ant has two large mandibular glands that are filled with poison that are as large as its body. Once it feels threatened with death, the ant will contract its abdominal muscles, causing the glands that hold the poison to explode and spray the venom all over its predator. While the ant dies, so too does its opponent. This is the kamikaze pilot of insects.

Up in the air

The exocoetidae are a type of fish that fly out of the ocean to escape their predators. These fish can glide for a remarkable 200 m once out of the water. This speedy fish flies inside the water also, swimming at speeds up to 60kph. Its fins have evolved to the point where they can be used as large wings once airborne. In order to glide, the fish uses its tail fin as a propeller, dancing on top of the water for long distances. Observers in Japan saw one fish glide for a record 45 seconds in 2008.

Spud shield

One of the toughest insects is the Colorado Potato Beetle, so-called because it was first discovered in that US state and is destructive to potato crops. It became resistant to the normally fatal insecticide DDT in the 1950s but its truly fascinating defense mechanism involves its own faeces. To avoid being eaten by larger bugs, this insect covers itself in its own poisonous dung. This stinky defense is called the ‘fecal shield’, since the poisonous dung seeps out over its back and hardens into a shell over time.

Guts and glory

The sea cucumber normally lurks quietly at the bottom of the ocean and eats all the small organisms it can find. But at the first sign of trouble, this otherwise unremarkable creature violently squeezes out its own guts. The sticky intestines of the sea cucumber come out of its own anus and become a distraction for predators, allowing it to escape. Not all species of sea cucumbers have poisonous intestines, but the ones that do have a toxic chemical known as holothurin, which can kill animals in the vicinity.

Playing possum

Sometimes playing dead is the best defense. Just ask the possum, which is famous for its strategy of not doing anything in the face of danger. But that's not entirely true. The possum actually falls into a comatose state under intense fear and can lie still for hours on end, even with its eyes open. This fear also triggers a smell to emit from the possum, making predators wary of coming into contact with a potentially poisonous animal.

 

 

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