What is a predator?
Predators are wild animals that hunt, or prey on, other animals. All animals need food to live. These animals need the flesh of the animals that they kill to survive. Weasels, hawks, wolves, mountain lions, and grizzly bears are all predators. Predators are a carnivore, which means their diet consists of meat. Some predators, such as coyotes and bears are also scavengers, meaning they will eat the carcasses of animals that they didn't hunt themselves.
Opposite of predator, you have prey. Prey animals can be anything from the smallest insect to a 1400 pound bull moose. Some prey animals are herbivores, meaning they eat plants. Other prey species are omnivores, which means they will eat plants or animals.
Most times, the word predator brings to mind an image of snarling teeth and slashing claws. While many predators fit this image, many others do not. Predators come in many sizes and shapes. They can be as tiny as a bug or as large as a polar bear. What does a ladybug eat? You're right, other animals! What about that beautiful robin that we welcome spring with? Yes, another predator! Are you getting the idea? Predators are animals that eat other animals. They're not bad guys. They're just guys trying to "make a living" like you and me. "Making a living" to them is finding enough food to eat. Are they always successful? No way, life can be tough for predators.
Can prey also be predators? Yes, in many cases. Food webs will show this.
Where do Predators Live?
Predators can be found on any continent of the world. Hot desert climates, icy cold polar climates, rainforests, jungles, mountain tops, valleys, oceans, and lakes. Predators are found in nearly every habitat known to us. It's a good thing, too. Predators have an important role to play in the ecosystem.
The way a predator hunts, catches and kills food is determined by many factors such as the adaptations of the predator and the prey, and the type of habitat they live in.
The strategies commonly used by predators are:
The Role of Predators
- Plants are the first link in the food chain; they use the sun's energy to make food.
- Plant eaters, also called herbivores, enter the picture next.
- Predators, such as birds and foxes, join the food chain by eating the plant eaters. These predators may become food for the next guy up.
- Finally you have your apex predator. This is the predator at the top of the food chain.
Tools of the predators and prey
Adaptations are physical characteristics or behaviors that help a plant or animal survive. Adaptations may help an animal move, reproduce, secure its food, or defend itself against its enemies. Brought together by a common need - to locate, subdue, and consume their prey - many predators display similar adaptations of their senses, teeth, and claws. Learn more...
Predators have different weapons that are used to kill and eat prey. The specific "weapons" they have are also considered adaptations. Three of the main weapons on predators are sharp teeth, claws and jaws.
Camouflage is an adaptation that is used both by predators and by prey. A predator uses it to sneak up on its victims. Stalking and sneaking up on prey is the only way some predators can get food. Prey animals have to use camouflage to hide from the predator. See how camouflage works at The Exploratorium.
Animals with an internal skeleton made of bone are called vertebrates. Vertebrates include: mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fish.
Although vertebrates represent only a very small percentage of all animals, their size and mobility often allow them to dominate their environment.
Animals that do not have a back bone are called invertebrates. Invertebrates are cold-blooded; their body temperature depends on the temperature of their environment.
Some major groups of invertebrates include amoebas, sponges, jellyfish, corals, tapeworms, flukes, insects, arachnids, crustaceans, mollusks, and echinoderms. There are more species of invertebrates than any other group on the earth.
Are you curious about insects? Go to Insect Gallery from Iowa State University.
Did you know there are even plants that are "meat-eaters?" The Venus fly trap is one you've probably heard of. They are small plants found in North and South Carolina. They grow in nutrient poor soil so they need insects to provide what they need to survive.
Now that you are an expert about Predators, head outside and keep your eyes open for the many predators and prey that you can find in IDAHO!!
Many thanks to Idaho Fish and Game and Project WILD for their partnership and assistance in this project. Information for this site is copyrighted by Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Project WILD. Permission has been obtained and granted to use this material for educational purposes. Photographic images were provided by the Department of Fish and Game and various other sources.