From lasso-wielding spiders to bizarre fish that lure prey with their own body parts, here are seven fearsome but often overlooked predators with some of the most astonishing hunting techniques in the natural world.
Net-casting spider’s weapon of surprise
Net-casting spiders use their silk to build a unique but deadly weapon – a stamp-sized net, which they use to enclose victims with a lightning-quick movement.
Moths, ants and other spiders are among the hapless victims of these long-legged, large-eyed super predators.
The hunter meticulously sets its trap: first it leaves white faeces on the ground as target points and then, with its prepared net held between its front legs, it hangs on a thread, lying in wait. When an unsuspecting creature crosses its trap, the spider stretches its net and bears down with incredible speed.
Once it's trapped its target, it quickly bites its victim and wraps it up ready to eat.
These extraordinary silken nets are not the only weapon belonging to the spiders. The arachnids’ huge eyes help them see well in low light, and have earned them the alternative name “ogre-faced spiders”.
See slow-motion footage of a net-casting spider strike.
Frogfish’s weird wiggly lure
Frogfishes are bizarre-looking creatures that entice prey with an extended part of their own body that acts as bait.
The strange appendage, known as a lure, resembles a small group of dangling worms, which can regenerate if bitten off. Once the fish has its victim in sight, it begins wiggling its lure that looks like a nice tasty meal, to trick its target into swimming perilously close to its mouth.
Once prey – usually a crustacean or fish – is within range of a frogfish, it stands little chance: a frogfish sucks in its live meals by opening its huge mouth, pulling in prey in mere milliseconds. In fact, the fish has possibly the quickest ambush in the world.
And with its camouflage pattern and fin-feet to help it negotiate the sea floor, these creatures are among the world’s oddest but most formidable predators.
See a frogfish use its lure to attract a victim.
Glowworm's deadly light display
They may look extraordinarily beautiful but if you’re a flying insect, bioluminescent glowworm larvae are deadly.
Glowworms live in dark and damp environments where they can utilise their bioluminescent light. The Waitomo Caves are the New Zealand glowworm’s (Arachnocampa luminosa) most famous and spectacular stronghold. Inside, larvae projecting light from their posterior ends light up the dark like hypnotic miniature torches.
Aerial insects fly towards the blue light, but become stuck in the sticky hanging lines constructed by the creatures to ensnare prey. Once an insect has become stuck, the glowworms draw up the hanging line and devour their catch, sucking their prey dry.
The larvae stage is the only time Arachnocampa luminosa eat, because adult fungus gnats don’t have mouths. Larvae occasionally turn cannibalistic, as adult fungus gnats can be among the insects entrapped in their sticky snare.
While the glowworm stage lasts up to about nine months, adults only live for two to three days – just enough time to mate and for females to lay eggs.
Snapping shrimp's stun gun
Snapping shrimps – also known as pistol shrimps – are another predator with a deadly weapon: their enlarged claw, which can emit a shockwave that stuns prey.
A jet of water shoots out when they rapidly shut their "super claw". And when the bubble this action creates implodes, a flash of light is emitted, described in one study as “shrimpoluminescence”, indicating the extreme pressure and temperature reached inside the bubble at the point of collapse.
The heavily armed crustacean’s characteristic snapping sound comes from this bubble blast collapsing.
Watch a pistol shrimp aim and fire with its super claw.
Spider’s sensational lasso skills
The bolas spider is another arachnid with an extraordinary method of hauling in prey. The creature constructs an ingenious “bolas” formed of a sticky glob of silk at the end of another silken thread. During nighttime hunting sessions, they hold their weapon with one of their legs, ready to fling.
The spider gets its name from an old type of South American hunting weapon made of weighted ropes.
But that’s not the only trick up these spiders’ sleeve.
Female bolas spiders can mimic the chemical signal of a female moth, luring in male moth would-be suitors. When the predator senses the wing vibrations of an approaching moth, it is stimulated to produce a bolas, finally throwing its “lasso” to capture its meal.
See a bolas spider whirl its lasso.
Velvet worm’s shooting sticky snare
Velvet worms – or Onychophora, meaning “claw-bearers” – are caterpillar-like creatures, often attractively patterned and possess a coat of delicate scales giving them their velvety appearance. Found in forests around the southern hemisphere and the equator, velvet worms are closely related to arthropods (the phylum that includes spiders, crustaceans and insects) but their anatomy has evolved little in the past 540 million years.
Their pretty appearance, however, belies their deadly hunting tactics. Velvet worms ensnare their prey by squirting a sticky slime secretion made in glands on either side of the gut, from up to 30cm away. They then gorge on the immobilised prey, softening it with digestive saliva and sucking it up.
Margay’s cunning copycat trick
The beautifully-marked margay has been reported using an incredible mimicry tactic to attract primate prey in the Amazon jungle. However the elusive cat’s tactic could need a bit more work – the margay observed by scientists failed to capture its dinner despite its cunning.
In 2009, scientists confirmed anecdotal reports from Amazon jungle inhabitants of Neotropical cats mimicking the calls of their prey.
A group of researchers working in Brazil reported a margay (Leopardus wiedii) emitting a call seemingly designed to sound like a pied tamarin baby, nearby but out of sight of a group of the primates.
'The Hunt' on BBC One
The remarkable strategies employed by hunters to catch their prey and the hunted to escape
Some of the tamarins went to investigate the calls. But when the margay leapt from under its cover, the tamarin standing guard let out a warning scream giving the group time to escape.
The researchers said although the cat’s strategy wasn’t succesful during their observation, they suggested it was “very effective in attracting prey”.
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