The Hindu: Up in Arms

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March 12, 2015

Up in arms


  • Neocapritermes taracua termites: Double up as suicide bombers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

    Neocapritermes taracua termites: Double up as suicide bombers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

  • Turkey Vulture: Guess its defense Mechanism. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    Turkey Vulture: Guess its defense Mechanism. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In this concluding part, we see how the creatures have some really cool techniques to ward off trouble.

Shield of poop. Blood squirting eyes. Anal attack. Retractable claws. Sting punches.

We talked last time about some cool creatures with dodgy defences. We squirm away from animals with claws and poison. But there are others with defence mechanisms that can startle you.

Exploding backpacks

Neocapritermes taracua termites send out suicide bombers when their nest is under attack by enemy termites. The older worker termites, armed with an exploding backpack of blue toxic crystals generated over time, go into the battlefield along with the soldier termites. As soon as the enemy bites its back, the enemy’s saliva mixes with the toxic chemicals and ruptures the backpack, ejecting a deadly blue liquid. Wham! And the worker turned Kamikaze termite also gets blown up saving its comrades.

Bombardier beetles

No less than 500 species found all over the globe except Antarctica, bombardier beetles fire their way out of sticky situations with a blast. Their three chambered abdomen is a marvel of nature. Two chemicals are stored in two chambers and mixed in a third one as soon as some pesky creature disturbs them. In a fraction of a second, a jet of the mixture nearing boiling point explodes out with a loud pop aimed at the trouble maker. Potent tool to ward off your class bully. Er…are you the class bully by any chance?

Gagging goo

Hagfish, also called slime eel, are the only living creatures with a skull but no spine. While they feed on marine worms and other prey, they also enter the dead and dying sea creatures and eat them from inside out. They have existed for 300 million years in the depths of oceans. No wonder they have a defence mechanism that even send the sharks gagging away. When disturbed, they secrete a slime which combines with water to produce goo which clogs the gills of the predator. It also ties itself in a knot which not only helps it to untangle from the captor’s grip but also the slime. Shark, you say? Bring along!

Stinging vomit

Turkey vulture, found in the Americas, well, resembles a turkey. It feeds mainly on carrion like other vultures but has a nauseating defence tool — vomit. When a persistent predator approaches the vulture or its nest, it pukes out the stinking contents of its stomach. If the predator is near enough for the vomit to fall on his eyes and face, the acidic vomit stings as well.

Skin breaking spikes

Amphibians in general have a great capacity to repair their skin. And the Iberian Ribbed Newt has taken it to a different level. When attacked, the ribs of the newt puncture its skin and jut out from the sides, secreting poison at the same time, piercing the insides of the predator’s mouth. While it leaves the fellow stung and disoriented, it doesn’t cause pain to the newt. What more, these newts have been sent on space missions at least six times!

Our defence mechanism? We’ve lost our canines and claws and even the harmless tail to evolution. All we have now are external arms and ammunition. If you ask me, I’ll say what a wise one said, “All the arms we need are for hugging.”

The author is a wildlife warden at Udaipur.

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