Oct 31

Happy Halloween!

Humans are not the only tricksters in the animal kingdom. Other species have developed some very clever and sophisticated tricks to get what they want. To celebrate Halloween we have put together a selection of some of the best tricks the natural world has to offer.

False Alarms

Within groups of black-capped capuchin monkeys there is a strict social hierarchy with dominant individuals gaining better access to rich food sources. It has been observed that when highly prized foods are available, the lower ranked individuals  produce fake alarm calls to trick the dominants into thinking they are in danger so run into hiding, allowing the lower ranking individuals to get their hands on the food!

Black-capped capuchin photo

A Deadly Trap

The margay, a small cat found throughout Central and South America, has been documented imitating the calls of some of its prey species. Margays have been recorded imitating the calls of baby pied tamarins. This attracts the attention of the adult tamarins causing them to investigate the sound, but as a result they just move closer to the predator! This could improve the chances of the margay capturing its prey.

Margay photo

Do it like a lady

Young male Broadley’s flat lizards have developed the ultimate disguise – better than any Halloween costume! They imitate being females so they can get a chance at mating. Male flat lizards have a high level of sexual dimorphism – the males are brightly coloured whereas the females are plain brown (see image below). Some young males only develop the bright colours on their stomach, so they are hidden away, with the rest of their body being the same brown colour as the females. If the young males developed bright colours all over their body, the larger males would chase them away from the females. As they appear to be females, it allows them to get close enough to the actual females so they have a chance to mate.

Broadley's flat lizard photo

Toxic Assassins

Assassin bugs have a whole bag of tricks depending on their prey target. The spider eating assassin bug taps a spider’s web mimicking the vibrations caused by prey trapped in the web. This gives the spider a real fright when it approaches expecting to find a tasty meal but ends up becoming dinner itself! The feather legged assassin bug uses another trick. It lures its ant prey by producing an irresistible secretion from its trichome, a hair like structure found on its abdomen, which ants find irresistible. This clever secretion also paralyses the ants allowing the assassin bug to then inject the ant with a toxin which kills it!

Feather-legged assassin bug photo

Feathery Fisherman

A small percentage of green herons have been observed using bait to catch fish. They drop small pieces of bait, which can include insects, bread and other treats, into the water and wait for fish to approach the bait. The fish get tricked into thinking they are going to get a nice meal but end up being grabbed by the heron and becoming food themselves. Some have even been witnessed catching smaller fish to use as bait to catch larger fish.  

Green heron photo

A bloody treat!

It is not only tricks you find in the natural world – some animals choose to treat.  Female vampire bats tend to live in small groups where individuals all know each other. Vampire bats are at high risk of dying from starvation if they go a couple of nights without blood. If one member of the group has not managed to feed, other bats in the group will regurgitate some of the blood they obtained from their feeding to increase the likelihood of survival of the other individual.

Common vampire bat photo

However the reason for this behaviour is not thought to be due to the bats just being nice to each other, but is due to reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruism is defined as; when an animal acts in a way that is costly to itself but benefits another, as they expect the individual they are helping to act in the same way if the roles are reversed. If a bat tries to trick the others and avoid giving any blood back when the roles are reversed, they will not be helped next time they need some blood – so it does not always pay to be a trickster!

We would love to hear if you have any other examples, tricks or treats, please either leave a comment below or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.

And don’t forget to check out our free Halloween activities  for monstrous masks, spooky quizzes and gory games!

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher