Predation

In predation (pree-DAY-shuhn), an individual of one species, called the predator, eats all or part of an individual of another species, called the prey. Predation is a powerful force in a community. The relationship between predator and prey influences the size of each population and affects where and how each species lives. Examples of predators include carnivores—predators that eat animals—and herbivores—predators that eat plants. Many types of organisms can act as predators or prey. All heterotrophs are either predators or parasites or both.

Predator Adaptations

Natural selection favors the evolution of predator adaptations for finding, capturing, and consuming prey. For example, rattlesnakes have an acute sense of smell and have heat-sensitive pits located below each nostril. These pits enable a rattlesnake to detect warm-bodied prey, even in the dark. Many snakes use venom to disable or kill their prey. A venomous rattlesnake is shown in Figure 20-1.

Other predator adaptations include the sticky webs of spiders, the flesh-cutting teeth of wolves and coyotes, the speed of cheetahs, and the striped pattern of a tiger's coat, which provides camouflage in a grassland habitat. Many herbivores have mouthparts suited to cutting and chewing tough vegetation.

A predator's survival depends on its ability to capture food, but a prey's survival depends on its ability to avoid being captured. Therefore, natural selection also favors adaptations in prey that allow the prey to escape, avoid, or otherwise ward off predators.

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