The Hindu: Self Appointed Sentries

Column in The Hindu: Self-appointed sentries
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February 20, 2015

Self-appointed sentries


Just as we have armies and weapons to guard us, small animals have their own protective mechanism to ensure their safety.

You can’t afford to be casual when your life is at stake. We have missiles and rockets and weapons and warships. But the animals have just themselves. They must combat, fire, explode, punch, poison and playact to save their lives. Many animals have developed super-animal combat powers which would make Superman or Iron Man hot with jealousy.

Dodge ‘em all:(Clockwise from Top) Horned Lizard, Boxer Crab, Sea Cucumber and Frogverine.

Potato Beetle’s shield of poop: Yes, a shield of your own poop. Before you squirm your nose and say ‘yuck’, think again. Which predator would like to eat poop before it got to its juicy meal? These clever beetles feed on nightshade plants and aim their poop laden with toxins on to their back. This forms a toxic poop shield. Is it crunchy enough for your palate, Mr. Robin?

Taking care of itself:A shield of poop.Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Sea Cucumber’s anal attack: If curiosity takes over your better senses and makes you approach the weirdly fascinating sea cucumber while sea diving, the cucumber might first shake and contract its body violently and then squirt out its sticky, and sometimes poisonous, intestines out of its anus! You would be entangled in this slimy mess for some time and retreat in disgust. The sea cucumber will coolly grow back its inner parts in six weeks’ time. But it may take longer for you to explain the smelly muddle to your mum.

Blood squirting Horned Lizard: Found in North America, this lizard has a spiky, rugged-brown look that camouflages it perfectly in its rocky and arid habitat. Although the weak of heart will be scared away by its creepy look alone, it has a neat mechanism to terrorise the brave hearts making them look like fools. No less than four species of horned lizards can aim and shoot a blood stream right from their eyes to the unsuspecting predator, even if it is five feet away! The awful tasting blood will make the predator lose its appetite for horned lizards lifelong.

Punches of Boxer Crab: The boxer crab, also known as pom-pom crab, carries sea anemones (water dwelling, predatory animals) in its claws. The crab uses them to deliver a powerful punch to its predator with the sting laden tentacles of the anemones. The anemones in turn get to travel to new places and gather more food during their travels, waving their tentacles happily. They would be returning home with exciting tales of travels and sea battles.

Frogverine: Yes, many have compared the South African hairy frog as an amphibian adaptation of Wolverine. It has retractable claws. The scientists are still scratching their heads to explain the retracting mechanism. The hairy frog can break its bones at will to create claws to stab the attacker! The bones thrust out of its toes rupturing its skin. No wonder it is called the horror frog as well.

They warn you not to tease a witch as she might turn you into a frog. But if the frog is so groovy, I would rather tease a witch!

The write is honorary Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

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