Children

Fooled YOU!

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Survival of the fittest may be the rule of the wild but animals also use their brains to outsmart predators and stay safe.

Nature seems to have a bottomless bag of tricks, each one more intriguing than the other. But it is not just plain tomfoolery. These are tricks that need to be played for survival.

Incredible as it may seem, the humble earthworm may not have eyes or ears, yet it can see and hear. It is equipped with certain simple light-sensitive organs that help it ‘see’ as well as ‘hear’ through vibrations.

Now why would an earthworm that spends most of its life underground want to see or hear, you may ask. This annelid (ringed worms) too needs to come out of its burrow sometimes to find a partner to mate. And while it is in its burrow, it needs to ‘hear’ the pitter-patter of rain drops on the ground as that is the time the soil gets wet enough for it to make more burrows.

Now, the twist to the tale lies here. Have you ever seen a gull performing a kind of tap dance? It is not just dancing to express its joie de vivre, it is trying to mimic rainfall, in its attempt at fooling the earthworm underground. Out comes the unwary earthworm and that is the end of it — an easy meal for the gull!

Hunger games

There are cases of creatures feigning death to fool their predators who prefer to eat live prey. That is how we got the expression “playing possum”. Amongst these actors the Click Beetle takes the cake. It lies on its back, as still as still as can be on seeing a hungry bird or lizard. And then with a loud “Click!” it somersaults, leaps into the air and manages to land on its feet. This is enough to startle and frighten any predator who would make a hasty retreat.

There are other actors — birds like the female Lapwings and the Great Indian Bustards (GIB) who lay their eggs on open ground making them vulnerable to crows and other animals. When the mother bird feels her eggs or chicks are being threatened, she puts on an act of being injured, thus drawing the attention of the enemy away from the target. The Lapwing calls loudly, raising a hue and cry and then with one wing hanging limply as if injured, it nose-dives onto the ground. The GIB begins to fly zig-zag with legs dangling.

In the midst of this drama the predator’s attention gets swayed towards the supposedly “injured” mother bird who allows it to come close to her and then flies away at the last minute.

Fooled YOU!

Mimicry is an effective tool to fool both predators as well as prey. Several species of spiders mimic ants, so that they appear as harmless insects. They have a false waist and they also have natural “make-up”. There are dark patches around their simple eyes to disguise them as the compound eyes of ants. To complete their masquerade they wave their front-most pair of legs near their heads to make them appear like antennae. Many insects would avoid spiders but not ants. So, when the unsuspecting insect comes close enough, woe betide them! The spider shows its true colours and grabs the insect which meets its doom.

These are just a few examples from nature’s ingenuous plans. One could go on and on. Truly, nature never ceases to intrigue us with her fascinating ways.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 10:25:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/fooled-you/article24310121.ece

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