Self-defense is big business. You could learn boxing, jiu-jitsu, krav maga and dozens of other fighting styles. You can also invest in tools that range from telescoping batons to tasers to high-powered rifles. If you want to defend yourself, the sky’s the limit. Animals, on the other hand, have far less at their disposal. Most rely on their ability to flee or hide and those that fight typically just use teeth and claws. But every so often an animal comes up with a really novel way to protect itself.
10. Exploding Ants Blow Up On Enemies
No one can tell you exactly how many ants there are in the world and for good reason – how would anyone ever know? Even estimates can be pretty wild, but some guess around 100 trillion. Fire ants have painful stings and bullet ants are legendary for the paint that their bites cause. But even among ants, you have to hand it to exploding ants when it comes to self defense. Their name makes it pretty clear these little things are on a whole new level.
Found in the trees of Borneo, these ants react to threats in the most dramatic way imaginable. Known as Colobopsis explodens, the ants are able to rupture their own bodies by flexing them so hard they burst in a process that not only kills them but covers their attack in a sticky and toxic mixture of internal fluids. The process will either kill or disable the attacker.
9. Sea Cucumbers Shoot Their Guts at Enemies
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. And the best offense is to be incredibly disgusting. Enter the sea cucumber and its gut regurgitation method of defense that may not be physically damaging but, if nothing else, is psychologically traumatizing to would-be attackers.
Though some species do vaguely resemble cucumbers, sea cucumbers are classified as echinoderms. They are invertebrates, which means they don’t have a spinal column like shellfish, worms, jellyfish and so on. What they do have is a digestive system and, when threatened, they can force it right out of their bodies at predators.
A shark is able to puke its own stomach out as a way of cleaning it and then swallow it again, but that’s not how a sea cucumber works. Once those guts come out, they stay out. The animal is then able to just grow new ones. It takes a couple of weeks, but it beats being eaten.
8. Bees Cook Wasps Or Resort to Poop
Most of us don’t need to be told how a bee defends itself. Bee stings are fairly well known and they’re the reason most of us don’t go stealing honey from hives like we’re bears in the woods. Less well known is what a bee has to do when its sting is not sufficient to take out an enemy.
Giant Asian Wasps have become an infamous species over the last decade or two thanks to the internet and its fascination with unusual life forms. These giant, terrifying insects are known to attack beehives, and just a few can destroy everything. They literally cut bees apart with their mandibles and the bee’s sting is unable to pierce the wasp’s exoskeleton. So how does a hive react when the wasps attack? They form a super hot sphere of bee power and cook their attacker to death.
The bees will swarm on the deadly wasps en masse. Though the wasp will kill many individuals, the hive may be able to survive as the group all work together to beat their wings and generate heat from the effort. They can raise the temperature of a wasp to as much as 47 degrees Celsius, which kills it. Amazingly, the bees are able to properly regulate this temperature so that it’s hot enough to kill a wasp, but not themselves, which could happen if things were just a few degrees warmer.
Some species of wasps have learned to avoid these heat balls by picking off drones outside of the hive until there are no bees left to defend it. But the bees have also adapted to this. Beekeepers have observed honey bees gathering buffalo dung. They place it around the entrance to the hive, something that they would normally never do. Dung is often dangerous thanks to pathogens, and it effectively keeps wasps away. Even when wasps do try to attack a dung-defended hive, they spend 94% less time doing so.
7. Vultures Projectile Vomit When Threatened
Vultures are considered by many to be rather ugly birds with their bald heads and hooked beaks. They also seem rather objectionable when it comes to their habits, since they feed on carrion and can most often be seen neck deep in a rotten carcass. They also slather themselves in their own waste to keep cool. Their highly acidic urine will lower their temperature as it evaporates and also kills bacteria. It probably comes as no surprise that their chief method of self defense is also extremely unpleasant.
When threatened, a vulture will force itself to vomit. That’s pretty awful in and of itself. But remember that they eat already rotten meat, so when it vomits it’s throwing up the most vile filth you can imagine. Not only is it going to look gross and smell gross, it’s laden with the bird’s extremely volatile digestive juices which are so potent they can burn.
This spray of vomit is also projectile and can travel upwards of 10 feet. And while all of that makes it seem like these birds are wretched in every way, remember that they provide a valuable service by cleaning up all that carrion and we’d likely have far more disease and bacteria being spread around if it weren’t for them.
6. Crested Rats Slather Themselves in Poison
Humans are renowned for using ingenuity to get a job done, and there are a handful of animals that demonstrate similar talents. Monkeys use tools, coyotes and badgers hunt together, there are a lot of ways to reach a goal. When it comes to African crested rats, they go above and beyond to defend themselves from predators by engaging in chemical warfare.
The rats have been observed chewing on the poisonous bark of certain trees. Once they work up a nice mouthful of toxic spit, they wipe it on their fur, effectively giving themselves a poisonous shield. Similar behavior does exist elsewhere in nature. There are species of toxic toads that get their toxins from the insects they eat, but this is the only mammal known to engage in such behavior.
Initially, the rats were thought to make their poison until one single rat was observed chewing the bark and wiping the toxins on itself. Researchers then captured some to house them under constant surveillance, and many of them were observed engaging in the same behavior, though exactly why the rat itself is immune is not entirely understood. It may be thanks to their four-chambered stomach full of dense bacteria, but it’s not conclusive.
5. Spanish Ribbed Newts Force Their Ribs Out and Coat Them in Poison
The Spanish ribbed newt has bug eyes and grows to about 9 inches in length. They look a little cartoonish in real life and aren’t very intimidating, but perhaps that’s just a plot. When it comes to self defense, few creatures go as hard as the ribbed newt. When threatened, the newt is able to freeze and rotate its own ribs inside its body from 27 to 92 degrees relative to its spinal axis. The ribs push right out of the newt’s skin through fleshy warts and are then coated with a poisonous secretion.
In pop culture terms, the newt is like Wolverine if he also poisoned his claws. There is no permanent hole that allows the ribs to protrude. The newt has to pierce its own flesh each and every time it uses the defense.
4. Blanket Octopuses Rip the Poisonous Arms of Portuguese Man O’Wars
The ocean is full of strange and terrifying creatures more than capable of defending themselves in a variety of ways. From the claws of a crab to the jaws of a shark, you don’t want to tangle with too many beasts of the deep blue sea. Some of the most formidable creatures rely on a bevy of debilitating and deadly toxins that can stop a predator, including a human, with remarkable speed and efficiency.
The blanket octopus has developed a backdoor to its down defenses. Unlike the deadly blue-ringed octopus, a blanket octopus doesn’t produce potent venom. Instead, they will steal weapons from the Portuguese man o’war.
The man o’war, often mistaken for a jellyfish though it’s actually a siphonophore, has dangerous, stinging tentacles. They’re not usually deadly to humans, but they can cause blisters and welts and are powerful enough to kill small fish. Blanket octopuses are immune, however. They’ll rip the tentacles right off the man o’war and then wield them like toxic whips either to attack or defend themselves.
3. Hoopoe Birds Use Filth as a Defense
Many birds have a pretty decent cache of defensive skills available, chief among them the ability to just fly away. Some birds are also equipped with dangerously powerful beaks and talons as well. But what of the smaller, more delicate ones? What happens when they face danger?
The Eurasian Hoopoe grows to be maybe a foot long and weighs less than a deck of cards. These are not fearsome creatures. So to stay ahead of predators, they’ll smear their own eggs with secretions that smell rotten, and poop all over their own nests.
Females coat themselves in the secretion, which comes from a gland below the tail. Despite the smell, it’s antimicrobial and makes her feathers more waterproof and flexible. Within six days of hatching, babies are able to fire projectile feces at predators in their own defense as well.
2. Numerous Kinds of Larvae Make Poop Shields
Turtles, armadillos and shellfish have a good defensive advantage in life thanks to their armor. Other creatures aren’t so blessed genetically, so they have to get creative. Take the tortoise beetle, for instance, which creates a shield out of its own feces to protect it from attackers.
Many other species of beetle do the same thing in larval form as a means of protection before they grow their own tough carapace. The strategy is oddly ingenious, as it uses a resource that the beetle never runs short of and it’s something very few predators want to get near. The tortoise beetle can even move their shield and attack would-be predators with it like a weapon.
1. Bombardier Beetles Shoot Boiling Chemicals
Bugs are generally disliked by most people and the fact that many bite or sting is a big part of that. But a bug that eschews such pedestrian attacks in favor of literally shooting you with scalding hot chemicals is its own special kind of terrifying.
Bombardier beetles are less than an inch long, possibly the only saving grace for these powerhouses. When threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in their abdomen. Hydrogen peroxide mixes with hydroquinone. The beetle has a little nozzle on its backside that it can aim with amazing accuracy to fire at a predator. And you don’t want to be on the receiving end of that blast.
The two chemicals together can irritate the eyes and respiratory system. Worse, the reaction creates heat, so not only is it an irritant, it comes out literally boiling hot at 100 degrees Celsius. The beetle has enough chemicals to fire this 20 times.