Anmal Assassins

By Matt Seek | illustrations by Mark Raithel | October 1, 2011
From Xplor: October/November 2011

Humans aren’t the only animals that hunt. To eat, wild predators must catch their dinner. And though they don’t have rifles or fishing rods, animal assassins are armed to the teeth. Just check out these amazing adaptations for capturing prey.

American White Pelican

When a pelican wishes for fishes, it plunges its beak underwater like a dip net. In a single scoop, the big-beaked bird gathers enough water to fill a 3-gallon soup pot. After draining its beak, any fish trapped inside are swallowed whole.

Garden spider

Like eight-legged anglers, spiders weave silken nets to snare airborne insects. Spider silk is stronger than steel, plus it’s sticky, stretchy and nearly invisible. Garden spiders have poor eyesight, but when they feel their webs quiver, they know dinner has arrived.

Short-tailed shrew

Barely bigger than a glue stick, short-tailed shrews possess poisonous saliva, ninja-like speed and oversized attitudes. Although they eat mainly insects and earthworms, these pint-sized predators aren’t afraid to tangle with larger animals such as mice and snakes.

Big Brown Bat

Bats bag bugs by “seeing” with sound. They produce high-pitched squeaks and listen for returning echoes. Be glad their squeaks are too high-pitched for humans to hear. If they weren’t, they’d sound louder than a smoke alarm blaring inches from your ear.

Timber rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes are armed with camouflage, venom and the reptile equivalent of night-vision goggles. Pits between their eyes and nostrils detect slight differences in temperature. This helps the serpent sense warm-bodied rodents even in the dark of night.


An osprey’s toes bristle with short spikes for hanging on to slippery, wiggly fish. But that’s not the only secret in the fish hawk’s tackle box. Ospreys can also bend their outer toes forward or backward to get a better grip—pretty talon-ted, huh?

Green darner Dragonfly

To ambush tasty insects in midair, dragonflies are equipped with oversized eyes. (If you were a dragonfly, you’d have eyes the size of soccer balls.) Each eye can see in all directions at once thanks to 30,000 lenses blanketing its surface.

Alligator snapping turtle

When an alligator snapping tur tle yearns for sushi, it simply opens its mouth and wiggles its pink, wormshaped tongue. Hungry fish are lured in for an easy meal and learn too late where the name “snapper” comes from.


Although they normally prey on rabbits and other small creatures, bobcats sometimes take down white-tailed deer. How does a 20-pound kitty accomplish such a feat? With stealth, hook-like claws for hanging on to victims, and strong jaw muscles that deliver lion-sized bites.

American toad

How do chubby toads catch fast insects? With spring-loaded tongues. Toads can flick out their tongues faster than you can blink. Plus, a toad’s tongue is attached to the front of its jaw, so it can reach nearly two inches out of its mouth, leaving prey tongue-tied.

And More...

This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Bonnie Chasteen
Chris Cloyd
Peg Craft
Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Chris Haefke
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Kevin Lanahan
Kevin Muenks
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White
Kipp Woods