7 Impressive Animal Defense Mechanisms

NOAA Photo Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
NOAA Photo Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The deep-sea squid known as Octopoteuthis deletron has a startling defense mechanism: When threatened, the squid attacks its predator and then pulls away, breaking off the tip of its own arm and leaving it behind as a diversion. As the arm continues to glow and twitch, the squid makes its escape.

But this squid isn't the only creature with a bizarre tactic for keeping itself alive. Here are several other animals with impressive defense mechanisms.

1. THE LIZARD THAT SHOOTS BLOOD FROM ITS EYES

The Texas Horned Lizard is a scary-looking creature. Brown, plump and perfectly camouflaged in its native sandy environment, its first line of defense is its spiky demeanor. If the sharp spikes and horns don't ward off predators, the lizard steps it up a notch and squirts a well-aimed stream of blood out of its eyes. The stream of blood, which can go as far as 5 feet, is mixed with a foul-tasting chemical that wards off predators. But this odd weapon comes at a cost: The lizard may release one-third of its total blood supply this way, amounting to 2 percent of its body mass. Unfortunately, its population numbers are dropping thanks to a threat that won't retreat after a well-aimed squirt: habitat loss due to rapid urbanization in the Lone Star State. 

2. THE HAIRY FROG THAT BREAKS ITS OWN BONES

Trichobatrachus robustus, aka hairy or horror frog

Emőke Dénes, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

What if every time you felt threatened, your first and only method of defense was to break your own bones and use them for weapons? Meet the hairy frog, a Central African species. When breeding, the male frogs develop thin strands of skin along the sides of their bodies that resemble hair. In theory, these strands also allow the frogs to take in more oxygen while they watch over their eggs. But what's really compelling about this frog is its ability to crack its own toe bones and push them through their skin to form sharp claws, which are great for warding off would-be attackers.

While it's not completely clear what happens to the bones after the threat of attack subsides, researchers believe the bones slide back under the skin when the frog's muscles relax.

3. THE NEWT THAT TURNS ITS RIBS INTO SPIKES

spanish ribbed newt

The hairy frog isn't the only amphibian that uses its bones for weapons. When attacked, the Spanish ribbed newt shifts its ribs forward at an angle and pushes them through its stretched skin. The resulting effect is a row of spikes on either side of its body. Like the hairy frog, the newt has to force the bones through its skin every time it is attacked, but the mechanism seems to cause little or no harm to the creature. Maybe one day it'll get its own robot protector: A team of researchers at the the Swiss university EPFL created a robotic salamander inspired by the newt, which they called the Pleurobot (after its scientific name, Pleurodeles waltl).

4. THE TERMITE THAT BLOWS ITSELF UP

Talk about taking one for the team. When under attack, a species of termites found in the French Guiana rain forests sends older worker bugs on suicide missions to defend the whole colony. These older bugs, no longer as useful to the pack as they once were, come equipped with "explosive backpacks" that, over a lifetime, fill with toxic crystals produced by glands in the abdomen. When mixed with salivary gland secretions, these crystals create a toxic liquid that explodes on enemies, paralyzing them and killing the worker at the same time. These termites aren't alone among insects in using a suicidal defensive tactic: When faced with a threat, an ant found in Borneo expands its abdomen until it ruptures, shooting out a toxic liquid

5. THE FISH THAT SLIMES ITS ENEMIES

Hagfish are eel-shaped marine animals with the incredibly useful ability to slime their enemies. When threatened, the hagfish emit a slime from their pores that, when mixed with water, expands into a gelatinous goo that can either trap predators or suffocate them by clogging their gills. The video above shows a hagfish being attacked 14 separate times by sharks and other big fish, and coming out completely unharmed. Each predator took one bite before immediately spitting the hagfish out and swimming away, gagging. The best time to encounter a hagfish is probably after it's emptied its slime glands withstanding such an onslaught; the glands take three to four weeks to refill.

6. THE SEA CUCUMBER THAT SHOOTS ORGANS OUT OF ITS ANUS

sea cucumber on coral reef
iStock

Sea cucumbers can seem pretty boring. There are some 1250 known species of these sedentary creatures in the world, and many of them do indeed look like cucumbers. But when it comes to survival, things get interesting. Like starfish and sea urchins, sea cucumbers are echinoderms, and they can regenerate lost body parts if necessary. This comes in handy when they're threatened. The sea cucumber will expel its internal organs, which are sticky and sometimes contain a toxic chemical that can kill predators. They don't have much of a defense against pollution though, which is a problem, because they're superstar ocean-floor cleaners.

7. THE OPOSSUM THAT PLAYS DEAD

possum playing dead in the grass
Tony Alter, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

You can't do a roundup like this without at least mentioning the opossum. We typically refer to this creature's infamous defense mechanism as "playing dead," but there's actually nothing playful about it; the act is completely involuntary. Under intense fear, opossums fall into a comatose-like state that can last for hours, long enough to convince any predator that the opossum is already dead. Also unappetizing: Fear causes these animals to emit a corpse-like smell that only adds to their act. Thank the opossum for providing some defense for us too: They eat venomous snakes and ticks, gobbling up to 4000 insects a week.

Elderly Sloths Live Out Their Golden Years at a 'Retirement Home' in Wales Zoo

iStock.com/TheDman
iStock.com/TheDman

Where do sloths go when they retire from a cushy career of tree-dwelling and leaf-munching? To Wales, apparently. As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the Folly Farm in Pembrokeshire operates a retirement home for sloths of advanced age.

By removing older sloths from zoos and bringing them to the new facility in the southwest of Wales, space is freed up for younger sloths to mate. In turn, this helps conservation efforts, while also ensuring that older sloths get the love and care they deserve.

Much like human senior citizens, older sloths prefer to eat softer foods, such as boiled root vegetables. Their caretakers also ensure they get a regular dose of cod liver oil supplements to keep them healthy. The animals are still active, but with limited mobility. If they show any signs of struggling, staff might lower a tree's branches to make it easier for them to get down, according to zoo curator Tim Morphew.

Currently, the Folly Farm—which opened the retirement home last year—has two residents. Lightcap, a two-toed sloth, is one of the oldest sloths in Europe at 34 years old. Her roommate, Tuppee, is 10 years younger, but he’s also more cantankerous.

“Like many older men, Tuppee has been known to be a bit grumpy and even misbehaves at times but we know he’s a softie at heart,” Morphew told the BBC. “We’re hoping some older, female company will be a good influence on him and bring out the softer side of his nature. Sloths aren’t known for being social animals, but as they get older, we’ve found they do like company.”

Considering that sloths are pretty defenseless creatures, the animals live surprisingly long lives. Two-toed sloths live about 20 years in the wild, but can live more than 40 years in a zoo. In 2017, the world’s oldest sloth—a Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth named Miss C—died at an Australian zoo at the age of 43.

Morphew says the zoo may expand its sloth retirement home in the future.

[h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

These Custom-Made Slippers Are Designed to Look Exactly Like Your Pet

Cuddle Clones
Cuddle Clones

What gift do you get for the friend who’s completely obsessed with their cat or dog? Fluffy slippers that look just like their pet, of course. As Delish reports, Louisville, Kentucky-based company Cuddle Clones lets you upload photos of your pet and decide how you want them to appear—whether it’s in the form of a plush “clone” or furry footwear that you can sport around the house.

Many of the slippers are eerily lifelike and bear an uncanny resemblance to the animal they’re modeled after. “We do our very best to ensure that your Cuddle Clone captures the characteristics and likeness of your pet to the absolute best of our abilities,” the company writes on its website. “We are very proud of our products and how much they resemble the actual pets.”

A woman wears personalized dog slippers
Cuddle Clones

If customers aren’t completely satisfied with their order, Cuddle Clones offers a money-back guarantee. The process of ordering a pair of slippers is simple but takes some time. First, customers are prompted to enter their pet’s name and select its species—dog, cat, horse, and “other” are listed—as well as its breed.

From there, they will be asked to upload multiple photos of their pet’s face, chest, tail, fur color, and physique from various angles (including their right side, left side, and even their backside). They can then choose the eye color, list any distinguishing characteristics, and decide if they want the plush version of their pet to appear in any particular position.

The slippers, which are made in China, take eight weeks to make and ship to the U.S. However, customers can pay extra for expedited orders. They’re a bit pricey at $199, but then again, you’re paying for a handcrafted, personalized product.

Personalized cat slippers
Cuddle Clones

In addition to the “clones” and slippers, Cuddle Clones will also make personalized golf club covers, purses, and holiday stockings with your pet’s face on them. That way, you can take your fur baby with you anywhere, whether you’re on the golf course or out on the town.

[h/t Delish]

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