You always hear about the beauty and majesty of nature, but it's not always pretty. Sometimes nature is just plain icky. Here are some of the grossest ways animals protect themselves from predators.
1. Turkey Vultures
Image: Kevin Cole [Wikipedia]
Generally speaking, vomit may be gross, but it's not much of a defensive mechanism. That is, unless we're talking about the turkey vulture. These birds gorge themselves so much that if they have just eaten, they can no longer fly. That's why vomiting is one of their best lines of defense -it not only disgusts a potential predator with the foul-smelling, acidic substance but it also allows the vulture the chance to move way faster and possibly even fly. In fact, the regurgitation is so gross that the vulture will sometimes vomit right in the eyes of its enemies, which causes a horrible stinging sensation. Oddly, bald eagles will happily eat the regurgitated mess because apparently they would rather eat rotting meat covered in stinky stomach acid than hunt for themselves.
Image: Siman Wagen [Wikipedia]
Another bird that has mastered the art of defensive vomiting is the fulmar. The innocent-looking birds have a nasty talent -the ability to projectile vomit a foul-smelling, oily secretion on anyone that threatens them. They can even spray the junk up to ten feet. The orange oil not only smells like rotten fish, but also will not come off and even sticks to the feathers of other birds, making them unable to fly or swim so they either end up falling to their death or diving into the water only to drown. As you might imagine, the fulmar itself is immune to the sticky oil globbing up its feathers and in fact, it actually uses the secretion as a high-energy food source for both the young and adults.
Image: kinskarije [Flickr]
Hagfish aren't just ugly fish with an appropriately ugly name, they also have one of the most unique defense abilities in the world -the ability to ooze massive amounts of slime. This might not seem like a super helpful defense, but the goo makes it difficult for predators to grip the hagfish and it can also smother their gills, suffocating underwater predators. The slime is so thick that the hagfish themselves sometimes die if they cannot squeeze off the excess slop fast enough -which they do by tying themselves in knots. A typical fish can emit up to 5.25 gallons of the sticky glop.
4. Hairy Frogs
Image: Gustavocarra [Wikipedia]
Alternatively known by the telling names of the "Wolverine frog" or the "horror frog," this amphibian seems like it crawled right out of the pages of a monster movie. The frog can produce retractable claws by breaking its own bones and then forcing the sharp edges through the skin. If you're wondering why the frog has those odd "hairs" that it is named for, those are actually weird growths of the males that help them take in more oxygen.
5. Iberian Ribbed Newts
Image: David Perez [Wikipedia]
Like the hairy frog, the Iberian ribbed newt pushes its bones through its skin to protect itself. In this case, the newt pushes its ribs through their skin and then covers the bones with a poisonous substance secreted from external glands that can kill predators. When an animal tries to take a bite, it quickly finds it made a huge mistake. If the newt survives the attack, its great immune system heals the punctures quickly and easily.
6. Horned Lizards
Image: USFW Mountain-Prairie [Flickr]
If you're a fan of lizards, you might think the horned lizard is kind of cute -that is, until you saw its famed defense mechanism in action. That's because this otherwise beautiful lizard has a horrifying ability to spray blood from its eyeballs. Aside from confusing predators (who wouldn't be confused when they saw that), the blood also tastes awful, making hungry critters head the other way when looking for a tasty lunch. Apparently though, it has no effect on birds who could care less about flavor.
7. Malaysian Ants
Have you ever felt so anxious and worried you thought you might explode? Well, if you were a Malaysian ant, you actually would explode. As if that's not enough, the explosion would spray a sticky poison everywhere, hopefully stopping the predator before it gets to the nest. The ants carefully wait until the predator is right next to them and then contract their abdominal muscles until they explode the massive poison glands in the ant's head.
8. Bombardier Beetles
Image: Thomas Eisner and Daniel J. Aneshansley [PNAS]
The bombardier beetle has a highly appropriate name, considering it expels a dangerous chemical spray right out of its anus at its predators. In fact, the spray is made by the combination of hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide stored inside the beetle's body and when it erupts, it shoots out at almost the boiling point. This high-heat ejection kills most attacking insects the beetle might face off against, whether through the immediate heat or through the components of the substance that irritates both eyes and respiratory systems of the beetle's target. The beetle can spray up to 20 times and they have an incredibly accurate aim as well as the ability to shoot the substance at angles of up to 270 degrees.
9. Sea Cucumbers
Image: Brocken Inaglory [Wikipedia]
Some people want to poop themselves when they get scared, but that's nothing compared to the sea cucumber, which can actually squeeze their muscles together until they expel their organs out of their anus. These organs are connected to sticky tubes that can tangle up predators and leave them immobilized while the sea cucumber escapes. The cucumber will then regrow its organs over the next few weeks.
Image: Diotime1 [Flickr]
Sure everyone already knows about skunks, but in an article mentioning the grossest animal defense mechanisms, it would be remiss to leave these classic stinkers out. If you've never been close to a skunk's spray, you probably know they stink, but you probably don't realize just how bad the smell is. In fact, a skunk's anal musk is so powerful that it can cause temporary blindness if sprayed directly on a victim. Even if it isn't direct, it will still cause problems with the animal's eyesight as well as horrible, burning pain and extreme nausea. It can terrorize even bears and be smelled by humans for a full mile. The good news is that skunks try to avoid spraying because they only have so much of their stinky chemicals and it takes a full ten days for them to produce more, during which time they would be largely helpless.
As someone who has ridden in the car with a dog that was just sprayed by a skunk, I can tell you it does burn your eyes and your lungs. After experiencing that first hand, I sure wouldn't want to mess with any of the animals on this list. But I am curious if any of you have stories about encountering some of these creatures. If so, tell us about it in the comments.
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