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Prey

Prey are animals that are eaten by other animals (and sometimes by plants!). Predators are the animals that eat prey. Animals that are prey often have special adaptations to avoid being eaten.

Prey are the food of predators. Prey can hide or deceive, run or fight to avoid being eaten. Some have armor (such as pangolin) or spines (such as African porcupine), and some have foul-smelling or stinging sprays for defense (such as the honey badger or ratel). 

Most herbivores of the savanna have hooves. They have only one or two toes, long legs, and muscular bodies, and many can run fast. Running is the common form of defense among the savanna prey where there are few objects to hide behind. It is easy to run fast on the hard-packed ground of the savanna where there are few trees and other obstacles to maneuver around. Generally speaking, the larger the animal, the faster it can travel. Many of the herbivores of the savanna are large in size. 

Prey animals are always alert for the presence of a predator. The eyes of prey are large and are placed on each side of the head - monocular vision. This provides good vision on both sides, so they have a greater field of vision without having to turn their heads. Many prey have large ears and excellent hearing. Most have a keen sense of smell - often predators (and hunters) try to approach downwind of their prey.

 Newborn prey animals are usually precocial and are able to get up and move with the herd hours after birth. If the young were weak and not able to move, it would be easier for a predator to catch them. The babies of savanna herbivores are born at a time when they can be hidden in the longer grasses that grow after the rains. The mothers also benefit from eating the lush new grass during this time.

Some prey find safety in numbers. Savanna dwellers such as large antelopes and zebras live in herds for protection. When the animals in the herd have their heads down to feed, one will keep its head up and watch or listen for predators. In contrast, the black rhinoceros is large and has a formidable horn to discourage most predators. The black rhinoceros is solitary in habit and, aided by the oxpecker, does not require the protection of a herd.

An animal's behavior - its actions - helps it to survive. Consider the warthog, a pig that lives in the savannas of Africa. It makes its home in aardvark holes in termite mounds or in holes in rocks. Lions and leopards are its chief enemies. When the warthog enters its hole, it backs in so it can see any predators that might attack it from behind.


This butterfly (Pseudacraea boisduvali) escapes predation by mimicking a highly unpalatable species of acraea.

Most insects attempt to avoid being eaten by being inconspicuous. However, some advertise their presence with bright colors and highly contrasting patterns. These insects are often poisonous or taste bad when eaten because of toxic plant compounds they gathered while feeding. Other insects mimic the patterns of distasteful insects (although they may be perfectly edible!) and thus avoid being eaten.

Photograph of butterfly by D. C. H. Plowes as published in "Africa: A Natural History" by Leslie Brown, Random House, 1965.

 

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