If you can't lick 'em, stick 'em.
The thorny devil (see photo) is no demon. It's a gentle lizard from the Australian desert. Its skin blends right in with the color of the desert floor. And its "thorns" make enemies think twice about eating it. Those sharp spikes could hurt!
Sea urchins are all-over prickly. These sea creatures' hard outer shells are studded with spines. Some urchins, like this slate pencil urchin (right), have spines that are thick and stubby. The urchin uses its spines to wedge itself into holes in coral reefs. That makes the urchin hard to pull out.
Other urchins have long, thin, sharp spines. And some urchins' spines are poisonous. Not many sea creatures choose to chomp on these prickly pincushions!
But some animals, such as crabs, sea otters, and some fish, use a trick to get past the prickles. They flip the urchin over and attack its short-spined bottom. Cr-r-r-runch!
The lionfish (below left) is one of the ocean's tough guys. Its spiny fins have sharp tips that can deliver a powerful poison. But see those colored stripes? They warn enemies: "Look out--I could zap you!"
When another fish tries to eat it, the porcupine fish (below) knows just what to do. It gulps lots of water--or air, if it's at the surface. The water or air can make a large porcupine fish swell up as big as a basketball--with its spines sticking straight out. Now the porcupine fish is a lot harder to swallow.
The Australian echidna (ih-KID-nuh) ambles along, sniffing the ground with its long snout. If it finds any ants or termites, it laps them up with its long, sticky tongue.
The pokey echidna isn't fast enough to run away from danger. And it has no teeth to bite with. So if an enemy threatens it, what can the echidna do?
It uses its front feet and long claws to dig down into the soil--so nothing shows but its spines! (top left) And if the ground is too hard to dig, the echidna rolls up into a spiny ball (bottom left).
A European hedgehog looks a lot like an echidna--and acts like one too. If a fox or other enemy bothers the little prickler, no problem--the hedgehog curls up to protect itself (below). And what if the enemy tries to bite? Well, you can be sure it gets the point!
Most animals know better than to mess with a porcupine (above left). But every so often, a young fox, coyote, bobcat, or bear gets curious and comes too close. Big mistake.
The porcupine turns its back (above right) and rattles its quills. If it's on the ground, the porcupine stamps its feet and grunts to tell the nosey animal it had better back off.
If that doesn't work, the porky lashes its tail or backs into the enemy, quills first. The quills easily pull out of the porcupine after sticking into the enemy's skin--or into someone's glove (left). An enemy's wounds can get badly infected. So a smart animal never bugs a porky more than once!
The spiny-backed orb weaver (below) spins its web in a woods or shrubby garden in the southern United States. Then the spider sits in the web's center, waiting for insects to get stuck in the sticky threads.
You might think that a spider just sitting in its web would be an easy meal for a bird. But two things protect the spider. First, birds don't like to mess with sticky spider webs. And second, birds may not choose to eat something that looks so prickly!
The Io moth caterpillar (top right) looks like it has little tufts of grass growing down its back. But beware--those tufts are toxic to the touch. When a bird or other enemy grabs the caterpillar, the tufts ooze out poison. Yow! Enemies quickly learn to stay away from this guy.
Watch out for the prickles on this spike-headed katydid from the Amazon rainforest (below right). Those spikes along the insects' legs and head can easily cut a person's skin--or tear the delicate wings of a bat. The spikes say to enemies, Better not touch!
From prickles on lizards to spikes on spiders, these stick-'em-up defenses really work!
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|Title Annotation:||nine different animals that use spikes or thorns on their bodies to ward off predators|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1996|
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