Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeEyeCan you tell what’s lurking in the grass?

Can you tell what’s lurking in the grass?

It is not only carnivorous plants that set devious traps to catch their prey. Many animals do too, and their traps can be as if not more devious. Lionesses will panic their prey into a stampede, herding the frantic animals in a particular direction, where hidden in the grass, the ambusher awaits, ready to spring the trap. Wolves in winter will drive reindeer and elk into deep drifts of snow, to slow them down and tire them out.

Stoats which are related to weasels (and not found in India), lure idiotic innocent bunnies (their favourite dish) by having fits. In a sprint (often zigzag) a bunny is faster, unless the stoat can draw close enough to pounce before the bunny can turn and run. So when the two meet, the bunny, all tensed, prepares to flee. The stoat promptly has a fit, goes into convulsions, writhing and bucking on the ground as if in the throes of being possessed. The bunny’s eyes widen in astonishment and it stands stock-still probably wondering if its arch-enemy is completely stoned or gone loco. The stoat’s convulsions slyly bring it closer and closer to the bunny, who by now seems to be utterly hypnotised by the dervish–like performance, and if it had a smartphone would surely have been videoing this, certain that it would go viral. Once within striking range, the stoat springs up and leaps.

Few of us can resist the cry of a lost or distressed baby and this includes monkeys living in the jungles of South and Central America. The margay, a handsome wildcat inhabiting these jungles, knows this, and hidden in the foliage yowls like a lost baby monkey. When a concerned adult investigates and enters the thicket, well it never comes out again. The tamarin, another denizen of these jungles falls for a similar ruse sprung on it by the squirrel-cat.

In Africa, the drongo, a master mimic, imitates the ‘beware! Eagle-attack imminent’ warning given by meerkat-lookouts just when the meerkats in the colony have found juicy meals for their babies. They hear the call, drop the food and flee and Mr. Drongo gets an easy lunch. This fellow pulls the same stunt on babblers, using babblerese (babbler language) in this case, of course.

Some birds, like green herons, indulge in lure fishing. They’ll catch a worm, perhaps, or pick up a piece of bread, and wriggle it around just under water. Curious and hungry fish swim up and the rest, as they say, is history.

But birds fall into traps, too. Crocodiles and alligators have learned to balance twigs on their heads during the nesting-season of birds. They know that birds are now on the lookout for building material and hey, here is some, lying on what appears to be a dead, gnarled old log. For the birds, the pickup doesn’t quite go according to expectations.

Guppies are extremely popular tropical aquarium fish, but gentlemen guppies, often snazzily turned out, are serial sex-offenders. Lady guppies naturally do not like being at the receiving end of this kind of attention, and would rather not be noticed. So not only do they dress up very drably and shabbily, but they even hang around (hoping to be unnoticed) with fish that would normally eat them, preferring to take this risk rather than being ravaged by the sex-maniacs. The ladies can even assess each other in terms of drabness – and try to ensure that they are the drabbest of them all. The drabber you are, the better your chances of survival. Quite the opposite of what happens in a beauty contest. And, then of course, along comes a sexy young airhead, flaunting her makeup and all the drab ladies promptly make friends with her and swim by her side. They know that if a maundering gang of louts comes along, they’ll go straight for the flashy young thing: to put it bluntly: they’ve hung her out to dry.

Staying with fish, the angler fish, has the equivalent of a fishing rod fashioned out of its leading dorsal spine: at the tip of this is a fleshy, appendage which it flutters around, making it seem like a worm. A curious fish investigates and well, that is that. Herring use mass-farting not so much to entrap victims or gross them out as to escape predation. They gulp in air which is stored in their swim-bladders and when it’s dark fart en-masse in order to keep together in tightly bunched shoals – there is safety in numbers. No, the farts are not smelly, and are said to sound like squeaks. Also, they’re pitched so high that only herrings can hear their own farts: their predators remain blissfully unaware of the prospective flatulent meals swimming nearby!

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Snakes too, are known to use their tails and tongues, wiggled and waggled as lures for curious birds: there’s a species of lazy African viper that does this, just lying in wait flopping its tail or tongue at prospective meals.

Spiders, of course, are trappers par excellence. Apart from the ubiquitous orb-weavers, there are trapdoor spiders that lurk in silk-lined burrows sealed with a hinged trapdoor, the area just outside mined with trip lines of silk. An ant trips over them, the spider leaps out at it, and it’s the end of story. The ogre-faced spider actually throws its web over its victims like a fishing net. The fearsome ant-lion lies in wait at the bottom of a treacherous sandy pit, and machine-guns its victims with sand as they lose their footing and tumble into its waiting jaws.

Also Read‘We were ready to kill it 10 years ago’: Vijay Varma10 things about Chandigarh that will interest youWhy does the mongoose always beat the snake?The life and loves of Mirza Ghalib, the last great poet of the Mughal era

But aren’t we humans the most devious, evil and diabolical master-trappers of them all?

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