Animals that catch and eat other animals are called predators. Not all predators are big. Some, like robins, are small. To see small predators, you don’t have to travel far. Keep your eyes peeled during the day, and you might find these pintsized predators using your backyard for a buffet.
Praying mantids would make great boxers. They wait with their front legs held in a prayer-like pose. When an unsuspecting insect passes by—BAM!—the mantid lashes out to snare the prey with its spike-covered legs. Mantids move so fast, unlucky insects don’t see anything until it’s too late.
Aphids suck sap from plants and turn it into a sugary liquid called honeydew. Ants adore honeydew. Like little dairy farmers, they use their antennae to milk aphids for this sweet treat. In exchange, ants protect aphids from ant lions and other predators.
When a robin cocks her head to one side, she isn’t listening. She’s watching for worms. If she spies one, she’ll yank it from the ground for a wiggly meal. She’d better watch out, though. Another robin might try to play tugof- war with her worm!
What has alligator-like jaws and never poops? It’s an ant lion. These tiny vampires inject venom then suck the juices from their prey. Sometimes they use dead, mummified bugs for camouflage. Although ant lions eat a lot, they don’t get rid of waste until they change into adult lacewings.
Screech owls work the night shift, hunting from dusk to dawn—or until their bellies are full. Their hearing is keen enough to locate prey—such as mice, birds and bugs—in total darkness. Tiny notches in their feathers muffle the sound of flowing air. This allows the owl to swoop, like a feathered ninja, silently to its target.
Wolf spiders don’t build webs. Instead, they hunt for food by waiting in ambush or stalking close and pouncing on prey. Their eight eyes, which glow red in a flashlight’s beam, help the spider spot prey, such as crickets, or dodge predators, such as shrews.
Little brown bats are better than bug zappers to keep mosquitoes at bay. Although they see well, bats use echolocation to find prey. They send out high-pitched squeaks, then listen for them to echo off nearby objects. By decoding the echoes, bats can separate food from other objects and catch up to 600 mosquitoes an hour.
Although short-tailed shrews are one of Missouri’s smallest mammals, they have Tyrannosaur-like appetites. Only as long as your pinkie, these ferocious featherweights can eat three times their weight daily. Shrew spit contains venom to stop the heart of their prey. Each shrew has enough venom to kill 200 mice.
Nichole LeClair Terrill