Predation is a biological interaction where one organism, the predator, kills and eats another organism, its prey. It is one of a family of common feeding behaviours that includes parasitism and micropredation (which usually do not kill the host) and parasitoidism (which always does, eventually). It is distinct from scavenging on dead prey, though many predators also scavenge; it overlaps with herbivory, as seed predators and destructive frugivores are predators.
Predators are adapted and often highly specialized for hunting, with acute senses such as vision, hearing, or smell. Many predatory animals, both vertebrate and invertebrate, have sharp claws or jaws to grip, kill, and cut up their prey. Other adaptations include stealth and aggressive mimicry that improve hunting efficiency.
There are other difficult and borderline cases. Micropredators are small animals that, like predators, feed entirely on other organisms; they include fleas and mosquitoes that consume blood from living animals, and aphids that consume sap from living plants. However, since they typically do not kill their hosts, they are now often thought of as parasites. Animals that graze on phytoplankton or mats of microbes are predators, as they consume and kill their food organisms; but herbivores that browse leaves are not, as their food plants usually survive the assault. When animals eat seeds (seed predation or granivory) or eggs (egg predation), they are consuming entire living organisms, which by definition makes them predators.
Some plants, like the pitcher plant, the Venus fly trap and the sundew, are carnivorous and consume insects. Methods of predation by plants varies greatly but often involves a food trap, mechanical stimulation, and electrical impulses to eventually catch and consume its prey. Some carnivorous fungi catch nematodes using either active traps in the form of constricting rings, or passive traps with adhesive structures.
Predators have a choice of search modes ranging from sit-and-wait to active or widely foraging. The sit-and-wait method is most suitable if the prey are dense and mobile, and the predator has low energy requirements. Wide foraging expends more energy, and is used when prey is sedentary or sparsely distributed. There is a continuum of search modes with intervals between periods of movement ranging from seconds to months. Sharks, sunfish, Insectivorous birds and shrews are almost always moving while web-building spiders, aquatic invertebrates, praying mantises and kestrels rarely move. In between, plovers and other shorebirds, freshwater fish including crappies, and the larvae of coccinellid beetles (ladybirds), alternate between actively searching and scanning the environment.
Prey distributions are often clumped, and predators respond by looking for patches where prey is dense and then searching within patches. Where food is found in patches, such as rare shoals of fish in a nearly empty ocean, the search stage requires the predator to travel for a substantial time, and to expend a significant amount of energy, to locate each food patch. For example, the black-browed albatross regularly makes foraging flights to a range of around 700 kilometres (430 miles), up to a maximum foraging range of 3,000 kilometres (1,860 miles) for breeding birds gathering food for their young.[a] With static prey, some predators can learn suitable patch locations and return to them at intervals to feed. The optimal foraging strategy for search has been modelled using the marginal value theorem.
Search patterns often appear random. One such is the Lévy walk, that tends to involve clusters of short steps with occasional long steps. It is a good fit to the behaviour of a wide variety of organisms including bacteria, honeybees, sharks and human hunter-gatherers.
One of the factors to consider is size. Prey that is too small may not be worth the trouble for the amount of energy it provides. Too large, and it may be too difficult to capture. For example, a mantid captures prey with its forelegs and they are optimized for grabbing prey of a certain size. Mantids are reluctant to attack prey that is far from that size. There is a positive correlation between the size of a predator and its prey.
Ambush or sit-and-wait predators are carnivorous animals that capture prey by stealth or surprise. In animals, ambush predation is characterized by the predator's scanning the environment from a concealed position until a prey is spotted, and then rapidly executing a fixed surprise attack. Vertebrate ambush predators include frogs, fish such as the angel shark, the northern pike and the eastern frogfish. Among the many invertebrate ambush predators are trapdoor spiders and Australian Crab spiders on land and mantis shrimps in the sea. Ambush predators often construct a burrow in which to hide, improving concealment at the cost of reducing their field of vision. Some ambush predators also use lures to attract prey within striking range. The capturing movement has to be rapid to trap the prey, given that the attack is not modifiable once launched.
Ballistic interception is the strategy where a predator observes the movement of a prey, predicts its motion, works out an interception path, and then attacks the prey on that path. This differs from ambush predation in that the predator adjusts its attack according to how the prey is moving. Ballistic interception involves a brief period for planning, giving the prey an opportunity to escape. Some frogs wait until snakes have begun their strike before jumping, reducing the time available to the snake to recalibrate its attack, and maximising the angular adjustment that the snake would need to make to intercept the frog in real time. Ballistic predators include insects such as dragonflies, and vertebrates such as archerfish (attacking with a jet of water), chameleons (attacking with their tongues), and some colubrid snakes.
Predators are often highly specialized in their diet and hunting behaviour; for example, the Eurasian lynx only hunts small ungulates. Others such as leopards are more opportunistic generalists, preying on at least 100 species. The specialists may be highly adapted to capturing their preferred prey, whereas generalists may be better able to switch to other prey when a preferred target is scarce. When prey have a clumped (uneven) distribution, the optimal strategy for the predator is predicted to be more specialized as the prey are more conspicuous and can be found more quickly; this appears to be correct for predators of immobile prey, but is doubtful with mobile prey.
Members of the cat family such as the snow leopard (treeless highlands), tiger (grassy plains, reed swamps), ocelot (forest), fishing cat (waterside thickets), and lion (open plains) are camouflaged with coloration and disruptive patterns suiting their habitats.
In aggressive mimicry, certain predators, including insects and fishes, make use of coloration and behaviour to attract prey. Female Photuris fireflies, for example, copy the light signals of other species, thereby attracting male fireflies, which they capture and eat. Flower mantises are ambush predators; camouflaged as flowers, such as orchids, they attract prey and seize it when it is close enough. Frogfishes are extremely well camouflaged, and actively lure their prey to approach using an esca, a bait on the end of a rod-like appendage on the head, which they wave gently to mimic a small animal, gulping the prey in an extremely rapid movement when it is within range.
To counter predation, prey have evolved defences for use at each stage of an attack. They can try to avoid detection, such as by using camouflage and mimicry. They can detect predators and warn others of their presence.If detected, they can try to avoid being the target of an attack, for example, by signalling that they are toxic or unpalatable, by signalling that a chase would be unprofitable, or by forming groups. If they become a target, they can try to fend off the attack with defences such as armour, quills, unpalatability, or mobbing; and they can often escape an attack in progress by startling the predator, playing dead, shedding body parts such as tails, or simply fleeing.
The metaphor of an arms race implies ever-escalating advances in attack and defence. However, these adaptations come with a cost; for instance, longer legs have an increased risk of breaking, while the specialized tongue of the chameleon, with its ability to act like a projectile, is useless for lapping water, so the chameleon must drink dew off vegetation.
A more symmetric arms race may occur when the prey are dangerous, having spines, quills, toxins or venom that can harm the predator. The predator can respond with avoidance, which in turn drives the evolution of mimicry. Avoidance is not necessarily an evolutionary response as it is generally learned from bad experiences with prey. However, when the prey is capable of killing the predator (as can a coral snake with its venom), there is no opportunity for learning and avoidance must be inherited. Predators can also respond to dangerous prey with counter-adaptations. In western North America, the common garter snake has developed a resistance to the toxin in the skin of the rough-skinned newt.
Predators affect their ecosystems not only directly by eating their own prey, but by indirect means such as reducing predation by other species, or altering the foraging behaviour of a herbivore, as with the biodiversity effect of wolves on riverside vegetation or sea otters on kelp forests. This may explain population dynamics effects such as the cycles observed in lynx and snowshoe hares. 781b155fdc