Fascinating Prey Animals From Around The World: How Do They Survive?

Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Mar 07, 2023 By Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Niyati Parab
Zebra in the grass nature.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.8 Min

The ecological process by which energy gets transferred from one living animal to another based on a predator killing and eating prey animals is known as predation.

We have all heard about the food chain which interlinks the different participants of the food web in a linear form, starting from producer organisms to the apex predator species. The predators occupy the higher rungs of the food chain while the prey animals fill up the lower rungs.

Some of the most common scenes in television shows on wildlife behavior is a lion or a tiger chasing a deer or zebra and eventually catching it and killing it for food. In terms of the environment, this relationship between lions and zebras is that of a predator and prey.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines prey animals as those that are hunted or killed by another animal (predator) for food. In nature, the transformation of energy begins with plants.

Using the process of photosynthesis, plants are capable of converting sunlight into a chemical form of energy.

Photosynthesis results in the production of a number of end products, one of which is glucose which is a form of sugar in which energy is stored. As they produce their own energy without devouring any other organism, plants are known as producers.

Animals, on the other hand, eat plants and hunt other animals for food in order to gain energy and are known as consumers. There are primarily three types of animals classified in accordance with their food behavior:

1) Herbivores - animals that solely consume plants for energy

2) Carnivores - animals that feed on other animals for energy

3) Omnivores - animals that consume both plants as well as other animals for energy

Carnivores and omnivores are secondary consumers when they feed on primary consumers. All animals that are hunters and feed on other animals to gain energy are known as predators and the animals these predators feed on are called prey. All carnivores are predators, while herbivores (sometimes omnivores or other carnivores) are classified as their prey. 

Keep reading this article to know more about prey animals as well as the predator-prey relationships. For more related educational articles, please check out our articles on scavenger animals and pack animals.

What does it mean if an animal is prey?

Carnivorous and omnivorous animals tend to chase and devour other animals in order to obtain energy to sustain themselves. These animals are known as predators and the animals they hunt and kill are called prey animals.

These prey animals inhabit the lower rungs of the food chain and play an important role in maintaining ecological balance. A prey animal can itself act as a predator and this way we get primary, secondary, tertiary consumers, and so on.

For example, the grass is the primary producer which is fed on by insects such as the grasshopper who becomes the primary consumer. The rats catch and eat grasshoppers, making them secondary consumers.

The snake kills and consumes rats and hence it becomes a tertiary consumer in this scenario. Some examples of prey animals are rabbits, squirrels, mice, rats, and herbivorous insects.

What is the relationship between predator and prey?

The predator-prey relationships have been compared by many biologists with the evolutionary weapons race. With time, the prey animal adopts certain measures that make it difficult to hunt and eat, while the predators tend to hone their hunting skills in order to catch their prey.

Depending on the power of the interactions between the predators and prey, biologists can determine the strength of these selective forces.

Numerous studies carried out by scientists in the field of biology show that predation usually concerns organisms that are in abundance compared to the usual carrying capacity of their home range. Many biologists and researchers are of the belief that if the predators do not hunt and eat these excess prey animals, then they would die from other causes.

However, an imbalance in the relationship forged by predators and prey can have far-reaching impacts on biological communities. This can be better understood with the help of the following example.

In the tidal rocks situated in the northwest Pacific Ocean, the starfish is the apex predator among the community of invertebrates residing there.

The total number of members of the invertebrate community includes around 11 species of animals, such as barnacles, mollusks, and other invertebrates, including the starfish.

When scientists carrying out experiments removed the starfish from the environment, it was quickly discovered that the total number of species came down from 2-12 in rapid succession. On removal of the starfish from its environment, a void was created in the ecosystem that was promptly filled up by mussels and acorn barnacles.

The starfish acted as a keystone predator which prevented the strongest competitor species from virtually taking up all available space by keeping them in check.

Through this predatory nature, the starfish helped to maintain a greater number of species in the environment and its beneficial impact as the predator species on other relatively weaker species was an example of an indirect effect.

The forceful introduction of non-native species (exotics) into the environment results in a domino effect that actually dismantles the ecology by leading to an unnatural rise or fall in the number of other species.

This was recently observed in New Zealand when the introduction of rainbow trouts leads to the complete isolation of the native fish species to certain pockets where the trouts cannot invade.

Rainbow trouts are considered prey by anglers, and in absence of these predators in the rivers of New Zealand meant that the native fish species of the region were quickly outnumbered by the invading trouts and they are currently only found above waterfalls which act as barriers to trout dispersal.

Also, as the trouts are more able predators than the native fish species, the invertebrates populating those regions have reduced in numbers quite alarmingly.

As a result, the population of algae, that were consumed by the invertebrates, has seen a sharp rise.

All in all, the whole marine ecosystem is facing a crisis due to this forceful introduction of exotic species that resulted in the disruption of the natural relationship between the predator and the prey animal.

Therefore, predation provides the linkage between the predator and the prey animal which acts as the prime movers of energy and forms a crucial factor in maintaining the population of organisms in the environment and ascertaining the birth of new predators as well as the mortality of prey animals.

A stable relationship between the predators and their prey animal need to be forged in order to balance the ecology.

Large Prey Animals And Mammal Prey Animals

Some prey animals that are large in size include camels, emperor penguins, king penguins, harp seals, reindeer, and red-faced spider monkeys. Each of these animals is a mammal and hence also serves as mammal prey animals.

A Zebra Mom with her baby zebra.

Adaptations Observed In Prey Animals

The correlation between the predator and its prey animal is essential in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The whole balance of Nature depends on the crucial balance between the defense mechanism adopted by the prey animal and the predator's ability to kill its prey.

Both predators as well as the prey need to adapt and evolve continuously with their changing environment in order to survive.

Vast multitudes of prey animals have developed a number of adaptive strategies in order to protect themselves from getting eaten by predators. They have responded to this risk of being hunted and eaten in a multitude of ways, including via altered behavioral, morphological traits, or life-history patterns.

Some of the adopted strategies, by the prey animals for survival, are heightened senses such as amazing vision, smell, or hearing abilities, various defensive mechanisms such as running at high speed or spraying chemicals from a distance, giving warning signals, and camouflage.

Animals such as the common frog and birds such as the great horned owl use the color of their bodies to their advantage and tend to blend in with their surroundings in order to avoid detection by their predators. The chameleon and the Pacific tree frog can even change the color of their skin to escape detection.

The white-tailed deer makes use of a number of strategies to alert its herd from an approaching predator. Its low whistle, which sounds like a sneeze, serves as a warning call to its herd to escape if predators such as wild lions may be coming their way.

While fleeing, the deer raises its tail to expose its white backside which can be seen from a long distance and acts as another warning sign.

When threatened by approaching predators, the skunk uplifts its tail and sprays a fluid that not only is of pungent smell but also stings the eyes of the predators. It can spray as far as 12 ft (3.7 m) away.

The main defense mechanism of the rabbit is to run away from its predator with great speed. However, the rabbit has also been recorded to fight back predators and defend itself using its strong hind legs, sharp teeth, and claws.

However, the predators also tend to upgrade their hunting capabilities with time in accordance with the evolving adaptive measures of their prey. Some grow sharper claws and teeth, other predators, such as the eagle or other birds tend to have an excellent vision which helps them in the detection of their food.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly factsfor everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for prey animalsthen why not take a look at animals with adaptations, or the most popular animals.

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Written by Rajnandini Roychoudhury

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

Rajnandini Roychoudhury picture

Rajnandini RoychoudhuryBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature. 

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Fact-checked by Niyati Parab

Bachelor of Commerce

Niyati Parab picture

Niyati ParabBachelor of Commerce

With a background in digital marketing, Niyati brings her expertise to ensure accuracy and authenticity in every piece of content. She has previously written articles for MuseumFacts, a history web magazine, while also handling its digital marketing. In addition to her marketing skills, Niyati is fluent in six languages and has a Commerce degree from Savitribai Phule Pune University. She has also been recognized for her public speaking abilities, holding the position of Vice President of Education at the Toastmasters Club of Pune, where she won several awards and represented the club in writing and speech contests at the area level.

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