Predators on the prowl, prey seeking protection and princes looking for a princess all know; to get what you want, you gotta go big. These 9 amazing animals prove that when the going gets tough, size DOES matter!
Snakes can appear very threatening – just ask Indiana Jones. Poisonous snakes even more so, but the Cobra makes sure anyone or anything confronting it knows just what they’re getting into: a mess of trouble. Specialized muscles in the snake’s neck cause a “hood” to flare out when the cobra rears up in excitement, visually increasing the size of the reptile’s business end. And yes, that IS one of the Olsen Twins… no, I don’t know what happened to the other one.
(image via: CobraMan)
Some cobras gild the lily, as it were, by having eye-like markings on their hood. From a distance the snake’s head looks bigger; from up close it really doesn’t matter – by that time it’s too late.
These huge marine mammals have very few predators on land, which just happens to be where they mate. Bull Elephant Seals meet the challenges of rivals with a showy display of size and sound sound. By blowing (through) their noses, bulls manage to seem even more intimidating – sometimes enough so that a rival is scared off before a damaging fight can occur. Oh, and elephant seals ARE big – the largest one ever recorded measured 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighed 11,000 lb (5,000 kg).
(image via: Arkive)
Clumsy and slug-like on land, elephant seals are much more at home in the sea where they’re positively graceful. They have to be quick on their fins, though, because it’s in the ocean where the seal’s only animal predators can be found: Great White and other large sharks. As you may guess, sharks aren’t fazed by bigness… to them it just means a larger lunch.
Known variously as puffers, balloonfish, blowfish, bubblefish, globefish, swellfish, toadfish, toadies, honey toads, and sea squabs, these distinctive fish gulp seawater when they want to make themselves look bigger and badder.
Some species go one better by having spines stand up & out when they inflate, leading to one such species being colloquially called the Porcupine Fish. Even so, the sea is a tough environment for small fish and even looking like a spiky basketball doesn’t do much to deter the Shaqs – and sharks – who abound in ocean waters. That’s why some types of puffer fish add another layer of protection by being poisonous. In fact, puffer fish are the second-most poisonous vertebrate animal on the planet, right behind the Golden Poison Frog. Those who see “fugu” on the menu at a Japanese restaurant might want to keep that fact in mind.
Ugly? Check. Warty? Check. For toads, looking bad has no connection with how they taste to predators. Though humans pretty much shun them, toads are preyed upon by a host of other small- to medium-sized creatures including other, bigger toads. Inflating their bodies by gulping air and standing high on all fours helps toads who feel threatened create the illusion of larger size.
Cane Toads, Australia’s amphibian plague, add toxicity to their stockpile of anti-predator weaponry. This is their main claim to infamy: larger mammals who try to eat cane toads get a mouthful of toad toxin that is at first distasteful, then fatal.
Great Horned Owl
(images via: Bassicharmony)
Most birds have the ability to fluff up their feathers but owls use it as a protective strategy. Even Great Horned Owls have predators, usually eagles, and putting on a threat display by looking larger can be remarkably effective in deterring an opportunistic eagle.
(image via: Shutterbug Fotos)
Even Snowy Owls use the puffing technique to avoid attacks by predators, though the all-white birds might have a tough time being seen at all against an arctic winter’s snow-covered landscape. It’s a different story in spring and before the owl molts to darker feathers.
As bugs go, mantids are fearful predators that have been known to take down small lizards, frogs, snakes, hummingbirds (above), even small rodents! In the dog-eat-dog world of everyday mantis life, however, it’s more common for the big (birds, rodents etc) to eat the small and even the most macho mantis needs everything he/she’s got when push comes to shove. Since that whole “biting off heads” thing is only known to humans, mantids have been known to put on the threat display that involves flailing their from legs and spreading their wings, exposing brightly contrasting wing markings on the undersides.
(image via: Neatorama)
The photo above won second prize in the annual photo contest sponsored by Focus Magazine. It shows a mantis showing off its true colors, probably in response to the photographer’s intrusive camera lens. He should have quit while he was a head…
Frigatebirds make their homes in tropic climes where there is easy access to their main food source, ocean life such as fish and baby sea turtles. Male frigatebirds sport a bright red “gular pouch” on their breast that they can inflate to look loud & proud for the ladies – who have no such pouch, just some white feathers.
(image via: One Big Speckled Egg)
Frigatebirds supplement their hunting by seeking out other seabirds who are returning with their catch. By harassing the other birds in flight, frigatebirds can often cause the other seabirds to drp their catch – whether it’s been swallowed or not.
(images via: Magick Canoe)
One of the most vivid and spectacular of the so-called “eyed moths”, the Io Moth uses a combination of shock & awe to confuse and scare potential predators. When resting, the Io moth shows only the outer surface of its forewings, which range in shade from straw yellow to russet brown – good woodland camouflage. Should the camo be ineffective, however, the moth will quickly expose its lower wings, each of which is adorned with a large eye-spot.
(image via: Butterfly Fun Facts)
As the spots are extremely eye-like, it’s likely that millions of years of evolution were required with those Io moths with the most realistic eye-spots surviving and those whose spots were less convincing being eaten before they could reproduce.
One of the most famous enlarging animals, the Frilled Lizard is rather drab, smallish, skinny, even scrawny… until it decides it’s time to change the beholder’s view. That’s when flaps of skin on the lizard’s neck swing open, instantly adding width and depth to what just seconds ago was a nondescript, typically reptilian head. The result may seem somewhat silly to humans who equate the showy frills to an Elizabethan Collar but to a hungry mongoose or other mammalian predator it may be enough to put them off their appetite.
(image via: Python Plus)
Just to ensure all attention is on its suddenly be-frilled head, the lizard accompanies its display with a show of snapping teeth and devilish hissing. The open mouth may be bright pink or yellow and the scales on the frill can be red or orange. The Frilled Lizard’s sound & vision show may be a lot of smoke & mirrors with not much behind it but hey – if you can frighten off a diner you might not become dinner.
You may be wondering why, if getting bigger gets you more food, more protection or more of the opposite sex, why don’t animals just get big and stay that way? Well, big isn’t always best, all the time. By being flexible only when they need to be, animals enjoy the best of both worlds.