By Christina Wilsdon
Animal Defenses (Animal habit)
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Extra resources for Animal Defenses (Animal Behavior)
Going limp and lying still works well for many animals, but a few species deserve Academy Awards for their death-feigning skills. Among these “best actors” are the opossum and the hognose snake, both found in North America. An opossum defends itself at first by growling, hissing, and showing its teeth. If this does not frighten away the dog or other 36 AnimAl deFenses The opossum keeps predators away by curling up and playing dead. This pretend act is the reason for the phrase “playing possum,” which means to fake being dead.
Disgusting or sickening a predator in this way may be a better strategy for a prey animal than killing the predator. It is useful to have “educated” predators in the neighborhood—predators that will steer clear of the prey. The most widely used warning colors are red, orange, yellow, black, or a combination of these. The iron-cross blister beetle, for example, has a black body, red head, and yellow wing covers marked with black bands. Like other blister beetles, it oozes irritating oil when seized by a predator.
First, it behaves in ways that warn the predator to go away. It will spray predators that do not heed the warning. poisonous prey A poisonous animal has poison in its body. It does not typically have a special body part, such as a sting, for injecting the poison. Instead, a predator comes in contact with the poison when it seizes or eats the poisonous animal. Sometimes a predator learns its mistake while eating its prey—or even after it has swallowed it. A bird that grabs the poisonous monarch butterfly will get a taste of the poison.