Predation involves one organism (the predator) catching and killing another organism (the prey) for sustenance. It may be easy to think of predators like bears, lions, or sharks, but can you think of other examples of predation in biology? Take a look at the ways predation keeps the circle of life going in various species.
Common Predation Examples in Biology
Predation Examples in the Invertebrate World
Invertebrates, or animals without a backbone, include spiders, insects, and octopi. Unlike most other predators, invertebrates tend to eat their prey while it is still alive. Many invertebrates don’t hunt for food, preferring to set traps or lie in wait for their meal.
Some examples of invertebrate predation include:
Spiders spinning webs to trap and kill insects
Lacewings eating mites and small caterpillars
Scorpions using their venomous stinger to kill insects and small mammals
Octopi catching small fish and crustaceans
Ladybugs feeding on aphids on apple trees and rose bushes
Praying mantises eating a variety of insects, including crickets and other mantises
Yellowjackets and wasps attacking house fly nests to eat their larva
Fire ants swarming and carrying earthworms, caterpillars, and insect eggs to their anthills
Predation Examples in the Bird World
It seems odd to think of cute songbirds as vicious predators, but almost all birds hunt prey in some way. They are also often hunted by other predators in their food chains. In fact, eagles and condors are the only birds that don’t have natural predators.
You can see examples of bird predation in these situations:
Sparrows catching insects to feed their young
Woodpeckers drilling holes into tree bark to catch spiders, grubs, and insects
Crows attacking other birds’ nests to eat their eggs
Penguins catching fish under the ice
Hawks circling and catching small animals such as lizards and snakes
Seagulls swooping into the sea to catch small fish
Owls stalking and killing mice and rats
Eagles catching rabbits, large fish, and other animals in their talons
Predation Examples in the Fish World
You may have heard the expression “there’s always a bigger fish.” In the fish ecosystem, that saying is true – except maybe for the great white shark! Examples of fish predation include:
Mollusks and shrimp eating zooplankton in the ocean
Tuna consuming large amounts of fish from schools
Piranhas in a feeding frenzy to eat a larger fish or animal
Lionfish attacking large numbers of reef fish
Sharks stalking and killing other fish, birds, or marine mammals
Moray eels hiding and attacking smaller fish
Manta rays sweeping small fish into their mouths as they swim
Predation Examples in the Reptile and Amphibian World
Most reptiles eat other animals for sustenance. Depending on the size of the reptile, their prey can be as small as a fly or as large as a gazelle. Their style is to strike when the moment is right rather than stalking and hunting their next meal.
Reptile and amphibian predation can include:
Lizards catching and eating insects
Frogs and toads extending long tongues to snatch flying insects
Boa constrictors tightly squeezing their prey until it can’t breathe
Crocodiles lurking under the surface of the water before grabbing an animal drinking at the water’s edge
Turtles catching and eating small fish from the water
Rattlesnakes using venom in their bite to kill small animals
Ancient carnivorous dinosaurs attacking herbivorous dinosaurs
Predation Examples in the Mammal World
Mammals are often the apex predators of their food chains. They include big cats, canine packs, and marine mammals. Even your house cat is considered a predator!
Here are some ways you’d see predation by mammals:
A pride of lions attacking a larger animal, such as an elephant or wildebeest
Dolphins chasing and eating fish
Orca whales hunting seals, sharks, and penguins
House cats killing mice, birds, and other small animals
A pack of coyotes chasing and killing rabbits
Tigers stalking and killing deer in the forest
Bears fishing salmon out of the river
Predation Examples in the Plant World
Did you know that plants can be predators, too? Although carnivorous plants can’t exactly move around to hunt their prey, they can wait for the perfect opportunity to consume insects or small animals. Some predatory plant behavior includes:
Venus fly traps snapping shut on insects
California pitcher plants using digestive enzymes to consume insects that fall inside its pitcher
Sundews attracting and then absorbing insects with sticky mucilage
Yellow pitcher plants secreting an intoxicating nectar to bring prey to the bottom of its pitcher
Bladderworts using negative pressure to suck prey into their bladders
Corkscrew plants trapping microfauna and protozoa in their underground “lobster-pot style” mazes
Predation Examples in the Microscopic World
You don’t have to be big to be the top of your food chain. Microscopic organisms can be predators as well. Here are some examples of microscopic predation:
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, suck the cell contents from other microscopic organisms and even other tardigrades
Diplonemid plankton sucking up other organisms in the ocean
Warnowiid plankton hunt prey plankton with small spear structures
Common Traits of Predators
Some consider any type of eating behavior that involves using another organism as predation. However, there are a few traits that one can typically attribute to predators. Keep reading to learn what these traits can be.
Predators are higher on the food chain than their prey.
They are usually larger than their prey. If not, they tend to attack their prey as a pack or group (e.g., lions, wolves, ants).
Most predators seek a range of prey and do not feed on only one type of animal.
Predators have evolved for the purpose of catching prey (e.g., camouflage, sharp teeth, claws).
Predatory animals and plants alike possess heightened senses for finding prey.
While predators are especially good at catching prey, prey organisms have also developed impressive defense techniques. If a predator fails to catch lunch, they can try again, but too many failures and they will starve. If prey fails to escape a predator, their life is over and they can no longer reproduce. The stakes are high in each example of predation.
How the Food Chain Works
Predation is nature’s foolproof population control method. Without it, the world would be overrun with herds of herbivores or swarms of insects. Learn more about how various food chains work to keep ecosystems balanced with these examples of food chains.