Predator and prey
The leopard (Panthera pardus) has a very wide distribution, from Ussuriland in south-eastern Russia southwards through parts of China and Southeast Asia to Indonesia, and thence westwards through the Indian Subcontinent to the Middle East, and most of sub-Saharan Africa. It has adapted to a huge variety of habitats, from tropical jungles to semi-desert and mountains, and even farmland near villages.
You may read more about leopards, including a terrible man-eater from northern India, on the page Animals: The spotted killer.
Illuminated by the setting sun, this leopard in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, is eating his cousin, a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) – a very rare incident, since cheetahs are able to run much faster than leopards. Either this particular cheetah was wounded, or the leopard surprised it by jumping on it from a tree. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This large male leopard is panting heavily, satiated after feeding on a white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus ssp. mearnsi), which he has dragged up into a sausage tree (Kigelia africana), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), which is divided into five subspecies, is very common in most of North America, from the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea southwards to northern Mexico, and across the continent to eastern Canada, southwards to the Bahamas.
The specific name auritus means ‘eared’ in Latin, which, like the common name double-crested, refers to its twin crests, one on each side of the head, during the breeding season.
This double-crested cormorant in Everglades National Park, Florida, has just caught a fish, grabbing it with its strong beak, which is equipped with a hook. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Khmer relief in the ruins of Bayon, Angkor Thom, Cambodia, depicts a giant fish, swallowing a goat. – More pictures from the fascinating Angkor area may be seen on the page Decay. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis) (left) and an olive baboon (Papio anubis), feeding on swarming termites, which are leaving their mound, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania. – Read more about these species, as well as many other monkeys, on the page Animals: Monkeys and apes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This cave cricket (Rhaphidophora oophaga), living in a limestone cave in Niah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, is feeding on a dead bat. Note its very long antenna. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The complicated ancestry of the domestic dog is described in detail on the page Animals: Dog family.
Dogs, feeding on a dead donkey, near Raqqa, Syria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
An example of cannibalism: Hungry dog, eating from a dead pup, Shigatse, Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The African white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) was once widespread and common in sub-Saharan Africa, occurring from the Sahel zone in West Africa, eastwards to Ethiopia and Somalia, and thence south through East Africa to South Africa and Namibia. Sadly, this species is now undergoing a rapid decline. The global population has been estimated at 270,000 individuals.
Rüppell’s vulture (Gyps rueppelli) occurs throughout the Sahel region, and also in East Africa southwards to Mozambique. Formerly abundant, this species may now count less than 20,000 individuals.
Both these vulture species have declined by over 90%, especially in West Africa, and they are now regarded as critically endangered. (Source: iucnredlist.org)
The three pictures below were all taken in Serengeti National Park, northern Tanzania.
African white-backed vultures and Rüppell’s vultures, gathered around a pregnant plains zebra (Equus quagga ssp. boehmi), which has just been struck and killed by lightning. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A Rüppell’s vulture, which was feeding on the remains of a white-bearded wildebeest calf (Connochaetes taurinus ssp. mearnsi), defends its meal against an intruding lappet-faced vulture (Aegypius tracheliotus). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Rüppell’s vulture is also feeding on the carcass of a white-bearded wildebeest calf, which was probably killed by lions. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Argiope is a large genus of spiders of the family Araneidae, comprising about 90 species, distributed in all warmer areas of the world. Their web is quite large and often rather invisible, with the exception of a pure white silk pattern in the centre, made from densely woven threads, which form an X or a zig-zag pattern. The spider sits with one pair of legs in each of the four directions of the X, or aligned with the zig-zag pattern. This often makes the animal extremely visible, and many scientists have speculated as to what purpose this pattern is made. One theory is that its visibility might prevent large animals from accidentally destroying the web. Research has also shown that the pattern reflects ultra-violet light, which may attract prey to the web.
More pictures of Argiope species and many other spiders may be seen on the page Animals: Cobwebs.
Argiope spider with its prey, a bush-cricket, Cahuita, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The African hunting dog (Lycaon pictus) has declined dramatically during the last hundred years. This fascinating animal is described in detail on the page Animals: Hunting dogs – nomads of the savanna.
African hunting dogs, gorging themselves on a Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The African fish-eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), which is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa, always lives near water. This iconic raptor is the national bird of no less than three countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Sudan.
This species was described by French naturalist François Levaillant (1753-1824), who named it vocifer (’the one who has a penetrating voice’) – a most suitable name for this eagle, whose scream often resound over the African landscape.
This African fish-eagle has just caught a fish in Lake Malawi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
An African fish-eagle attacks a marabou stork (Leptoptilos cruminifer), as the stork attempts to steal its food, consisting of the remains of a goat, which was hung up in a tree to lure leopards to the place, Samburu National Park, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This digger wasp has sedated a grasshopper by injecting poison into its body. Now the wasp is bringing its victim to its nesting hole, where it will lay eggs on its body. When the wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the grasshopper, which by then will still be alive. – Tumlingtar, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Ancient Greek mythology, Python was a huge dragon or serpent, guarding the temple at Delphi, which by the Ancient Greeks was regarded as the centre of the Earth. In his book Fabulae, Roman author Gaius Julius Hyginus (c. 64 B.C. – 17 A.D.) states that Zeus had made love to the goddess Leto. When she was about to give birth to Apollo and Artemis, goddess Hera got jealous, sending Python to pursue Leto, making her unable to deliver, wherever the sun was shining. When Apollo grew up, he wanted to avenge his mother, travelling to Mount Parnassos, where the monster dwelled. He chased it to Delphi, where he killed it with his arrows.
Zoologically speaking, Python is a genus of large constricting snakes, comprising eleven species, distributed in tropical regions of Asia and Africa. The Indian rock python (Python molurus) is found on the entire Indian Subcontinent, including Sri Lanka.
This Indian rock python is basking in the sun outside its den, Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India. Formerly, its den was probably inhabited by a family of Indian porcupines (Hystrix indica), which may have deserted it – or the python simply chased them away. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As is obvious from this info sign in Keoladeo National Park, the rock python is a formidable predator. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The name ladybird spider refers to several species of the genus Eresus, named after the male, which has a red body with black spots – just like a ladybird. The female is uniformly black. Eresus sandaliatus is found in northern Europe, from Denmark and southern Sweden southwards to the Czech Republic, northern Italy, and northern France.
A small population is also found in England. In 1993, it was estimated that only about 50 individuals were left, mainly due to destruction of its preferred habitat, moors. In 2000, however, over 600 were counted, probably owing to the efforts of various NGO’s. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eresus_sandaliatus)
Male ladybird spider of the species Eresus sandaliatus, surrounded by remains of its prey (beetle wings), central Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lions (Panthera leo) live in prides, consisting of females and young, and a single or several males. If there is more than one male, they are brothers or half-brothers. Even if they often don’t participate in a hunt, the stronger males will chase away lionesses and cubs from a prey, if it is not large enough to feed the entire pride.
Often called ’The King of Animals’, the lion is indeed a powerful and immensely strong animal, but it is not among the largest carnivores. The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) and some subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) are larger, and the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris ssp. altaica) is also slightly bigger than the lion. The title ’The King of Animals’ was probably bestowed on the lion, because the male’s mane makes him look very impressive.
The mane is a large growth of hair around the neck and down the chest, and often a little way down the back. No other cat species has a mane. The mane makes a male lion look larger than he actually is, without the disadvantage of a larger weight, which would require more food. A large mane is a signal to other males that here comes a powerful animal that shouldn’t be challenged, even if the challenging male is in fact larger than his opponent, but has a smaller mane. The mane also gives some protection during fights among males, for instance when stray males attempt to take over a pride.
More pictures of lions may be seen in the gallery at Animals: Cats. You can also read about our nightly adventure with lions on the page Travel episodes – Tanzania 1990: Lions in the camp.
This lone, ageing male lion in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, is feeding on the carcass of a plains zebra (Equus quagga ssp. boehmi). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young lion is feeding on a white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus ssp. mearnsi), while its satiated companion is sleeping next to it. – Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Water bugs, eating from a drowned dragonfly, Mysore, Karnataka, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) is a large shearwater, living in southern waters and often observed as far north as southern Australia, southern Africa, and Peru. It is still common, but is declining rather drastically everywhere.
White-chinned petrels, feeding on a dead fish, south of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. The pale bird to the left is a Cape petrel (Daption capense). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Golden orb-weavers, of the genus Nephila, are members of the family Araneidae. This genus, comprising about 23 species, is found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The female, which is several times larger than the male, can grow to 6 cm body length, with a leg span up to 15 cm. The generic name is derived from the Greek nein (‘to spin’) and philos (‘love’), thus ‘fond of spinning’. The web of these spiders is enormous, up to 2 m across, with supporting strands much longer. The webs of different females are sometimes inter-connected, together covering many square metres. Small birds and bats are reported to have been caught in these strong webs.
More pictures of Nephila species and many other spiders may be seen on the page Animals: Cobwebs.
Female Nephila pilipes, sitting in its huge web, which contains many remains of its prey, Basianshan National Forest, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Taiwan toad (Bufo bankorensis), also called Bankor toad, is a large toad, which is endemic to Taiwan. Females, which are larger than males, can reach a length of 20 cm from snout to vent. This species is widely distributed from sea level up to an altitude of c. 3,000 m. Genetic research indicates that it originated from Bufo gargarizans of China. It then dispersed to almost the entire island, resulting in highly diverse western and eastern populations.
This large Taiwan toad in Malabang National Forest, near Hsinshu, is swallowing a one-foot-long earth worm. Note the poison gland behind the eye. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is a formidable predator, which is able to bring down large animals like zebras and wildebeest. This species is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and in historic times it was also found all along the Nile River (hence its name), northwards to the Nile Delta. Today, however it is restricted to the southernmost parts of Egypt, around Lake Nasser.
This Nile crocodile in the Orangi River, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, is tearing apart its prey, a white-bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus ssp. mearnsi). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is a widespread and common scavenger, found from south-eastern United States, southwards to Chile and Uruguay. Although it mainly eats carrion and garbage, it is also able to kill smaller animals, notably newly hatched sea turtles, making their way towards the sea.
Black vultures, feeding on a raccoon (Procyon lotor), which was killed by a car, Cahuita, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ghost crabs, feeding on a dead cat on a beach, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The western yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) is found in the Mediterranean Sea. This species resembles the widespread herring gull (Larus argentatus), but can be identified by its yellow legs and very powerful beak. The western yellow-legged gull is extremely common in Istanbul, Turkey, where it often breeds on house roofs. If a window is left open, it may enter to search for edibles.
This species and other gulls are dealt with in depth on the page Nature: Urban nature.
This western yellow-legged gull in Istanbul has killed a domestic pigeon and is now eating it on a roof top. It shows a threatening attitude towards an intruding hooded crow (Corvus corone ssp. cornix), which is very interested in the kill. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the fastest land mammal on Earth, during hunts often running at speeds of up to 64 km/h, being able to accelerate up to 112 km/h on short distances. Because of this ability, it was tamed as early as the 16th Century B.C. in Egypt, and later also in India, to be used for hunting.
This species is described in detail on the page Portraits, and more pictures of it are found in the gallery at Animals: Cats.
The cheetah in front is feeding on an impala (Aepyceros melampus), while its satiated companion is resting in the shrubs, panting. – Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flesh-eating plants are dealt with on a separate page, see Plants: Flesh-eating plants.
(Uploaded September 2016)
(Latest update November 2019)