7 Clever Hunting Tricks Used in the Animal Kingdom
The animal world is full of predators with some impressive tricks up their sleeves.
1. Sun-tracking sharks
Great white sharks are the largest predatory fish in the world, and perhaps the most famous of sharks, thanks to their starring role in the Jaws franchise. But new research suggests these creatures are also quite clever. Scientists from Flinders University in Australia now say white sharks can use the sun’s positioning to their advantage when hunting. On sunny mornings, the sharks strike from the east with the rising sun directly behind them. In the afternoons, they switch directions to approach from the west. “This would suggest that the sharks are capable of tracking the sun, which is quite an impressive feat,” says Dr. Charlie Huveneers, an ecologist who led the research. By putting the sun behind them, the sharks are avoiding glare and making their unlucky prey easier to see.
2. Bait-fishing green herons
This beautiful bird knows the best way to catch a fish is with a little bait. They’re sometimes observed dropping bits of bait—bread, for example—into the water to lure curious victims to the surface before striking. For other herons, little fish become the bait itself, used to trick bigger fish looking for a meal. Watching a heron fish with such precision and ingenuity is a creepy reminder that birds are actually really smart.
Not to be outdone by its green cousin, the black heron has another smart tactic for finding dinner: it shapes its wings into an "umbrella" that creates shade. This allows it to see down into the water by reducing the sun’s glare, but serves the dual purpose of attracting fish, which are drawn to dark areas of vegetation. You can see this ingenious trap at work here.
3. Color-changing crab spiders
Kristi, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Call them the chameleons of the arachnid world. The female whitebanded crab spider can change its own color from white to yellow and back again to avoid being detected while it waits patiently on flower petals before ambushing prey. Males, sadly, aren't blessed with this talent.
4. Bubble-blowing humpback whales
These giant creatures work together to corral large schools of krill or herring into one place for a massive meal. The whales swim in an upward spiral below the fish and release columns of air bubbles, which the fish won’t swim through, essentially creating a bubble net around the prey. Researchers say this hunting skill is passed on from whale to whale.
5. Sneaky crocodiles
Mugger crocodiles in India and some American alligators have been observed lying completely still just beneath the surface of the water for long periods of time, their snouts deliberately covered by sticks. It seems these reptiles have learned that, during heron mating season, the birds need sticks to build their nests. By hiding beneath something that’s in high demand, the crocodiles and alligators nearly guarantee themselves a meal if they can wait long enough. “If the crocodylians really are using the sticks as bait to attract their bird prey,” writes Darren Naish at Scientific American, “this is tool use, since the sticks are objects that are being employed for a specific function.”
6. The fish that plays dead
Possums aren’t the only animals that play dead. In East Africa, a species of cichlid fish uses this skill to catch smaller fish for dinner. In shallow waters, the fish sinks to the ground as if dead. Some fish spend up to 15 minutes in this position, waiting for someone to take the bait. Smaller fish, convinced by the act, nibble on the corpse of the cichlid. If they come close enough, the faking fish snaps to life and nabs a meal. But this hunting method comes with a cost: Some cichlid fish sustain lifelong injuries to their fins from essentially using their own bodies as bait.
7. Mimicking jungle cats
Mimicry is a well-utilized and impressive skill in the animal world. One good example is the morgay, or tree ocelot, in the Amazonian forests of the Reserva Florestal Adolpho Ducke in Brazil. This jungle cat mimics the call of baby pied tamarin monkeys to attract curious adult monkeys. "Cats are known for their physical agility, but this vocal manipulation of prey species indicates a psychological cunning which merits further study," says Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fabio Rohe.