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Camouflage and special body coverings are two ways that animals protect themselves from other animals. But there are some other defensive behaviors that we haven’t talked about yet! Let’s explore some of the amazing ways that animals protect themselves.
Poison & venom
Many different animals use poison or venom to defend themselves. Although many people think a poisonous animal is also a venomous animal, it’s not true. The general rule is: if you bite it, that’s poison. If it bites you, that’s venom. A monarch caterpillar (like this one) is poisonous. Its poison harms any animal that might try to eat it, like a bird. On the other hand, a rattlesnake is venomous. Its venom harms other animals when the snake bites them.
Guiding Question: What’s the difference between venomous animals and poisonous animals? What venomous animals can you think of? What poisonous animals?
Scales as armor?
(Disponible en español)
How do fish protect themselves? Let’s create a fun model of a fish to explore their scales. Click here for a full list of instructions in English and Spanish!
Teaching Tip: Tie these lessons back to our animal coverings email.
How do shells protect turtles?
(Disponible en español)
We know that many turtles have very tough shells, and that turtles can pull their limbs in to their shells for additional protection. But have you thought about how the shape of a shell can help a turtle? Turtles with tall shells (like box turtles) have even more protection because they’re harder for predators to fit in their mouths. Think about a thin, flat peanut butter and jelly sandwich compared to a tall, wide burger. Which would be easier to take a bite of? Why?
Teaching Tip: Keep the fun going by building your own turtle! Click here for directions in English and Spanish.
Say hello to Herbert! He’s the hognose snake who lives in the Mysteries of the Marsh at the Museum. Although they are nonvenomous, hognoses have a couple of different defense mechanisms to protect themselves! When they feel threatened, they will “play dead.” They’ll flip onto their backs, open their mouths, and stick out their tongues, hoping the predator will leave them alone! They also mimic rattlesnake behaviors to scare away predators, even though hognose snakes don’t have rattles!
This is Alonso, our musk turtle. Have you wondered why musk turtles are called musk turtles? Maybe their other common name will give you a clue. They’re also called stinkpots. It’s because they have the ability to excrete a stinky, musky odor when they feel threatened. Want to learn more about Alonso? Click here to check out our Animal Feeding with him!
Want to keep learning about turtles? Click here for our Story Time featuring “The Turtle Book.”
Like monarchs, milkweed longhorn beetles feed on milkweed. That makes them poisonous to birds and other predators. So, like monarchs, they have a bright warning coloration. They also have another defense when they are bothered. Click here to watch Allen explain!
Guiding Question: How are these beetles similar to monarch butterflies? How are they different? Think about their coloring, their food, and their predators.
Behind the Scenes
Sometimes it’s hard to spot our turtles! Our box turtles love to bury themselves in their substrate (the bedding in their tanks). Not only is it comfy, it helps them to regulate their body temperature.