How Do Animals Protect Themselves?

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May 19, 2020

Camouflage and special body coverings are two ways that animals protect themselves from other animals. But there are some other defensive behaviors, too! 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.


How do shells protect turtles?

We know that many turtles have very tough shells, and that turtles can pull their limbs into 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.

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Fooling predators!

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!

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Musky turtles!

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.

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Warning predators!

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 the video below to watch bug expert Allen explain!

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