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What makes an organism a prey item? Can prey become predator? Prey come in all shapes and sizes, and many have special adaptations to help them survive.

A Look at Prey

You have likely seen this scenario on TV: a lion stalks an unsuspecting antelope, a chase ensues, the lion catches the antelope and has a very large meal to eat. In this situation the lion is the predator and the antelope is the prey. Predation is a biological interaction between predator and prey, but it is not always as clear, or as dramatic, as in this example.

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Types of Prey

There are many types of predation and prey, and the example of the lion hunting the antelope is called carnivory. Predation can also occur as parasitism, in which the prey is a host that supports a parasite, such as a virus. In this case, the prey may be harmed but not killed outright like the antelope. When the prey is the same species as the predator, this is called cannibalism.

Plants can also be prey, and this is called herbivory. When a deer eats grass, the plant is the prey and the animal the predator. Herbivory is interesting because it highlights how sometimes an organism can be predator or prey depending on the situation. As a mouse is prey as it runs from an attack by a hawk, but becomes predator as soon as it eats some tasty sunflower seeds.

Humans can also be both predator and prey. Without weapons, humans are very vulnerable to carnivory by larger animals, such as alligators and lions. However, when they have weapons, such as guns, traps, and bows and arrows, they quickly turn the tables and can make the predator the prey.Additionally, organisms do not have to be larger than their prey to be successful predators. Venomous snakes are able to take advantage of a variety of large prey items because an injection of venom can be quite fatal.

Adaptations

Many species have developed adaptations to prevent being preyed upon. Some animals have chemical defenses that help keep predators away, such as skunks. Getting sprayed with that awful smell makes a predator weigh that choice very carefully.Other organisms have developed physical characteristics that keep predators at bay.

Porcupines have painful quills all over their body that not only helps defend against a predation attack, but also warns predators well ahead of time that it is very risky for them to even try.Many animals are poisonous and have brightly colored bodies to indicate this. Poison dart frogs and monarch butterflies both have very distinctive markings to warn predators that they are a very bad prey choice because they will do great harm by eating them.Mimicry is another way prey species can avoid predation, and this is when the prey has markings on its body or acts in a way that mimics an unrelated species. The Io moth has markings on its underwings that look like an owl’s eyes.

When it feels threatened it opens its wings and reveals these markings, which startles the predator and allows the moth more time to escape.

Lesson Summary

Predation is a biological interaction between a predator and its prey. However, prey can quickly become predator in the right circumstances.

Prey are not always killed, but are usually harmed in some way, and many organisms have adaptations that help them avoid predation, which reduces their chances of becoming prey.

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