Which organs do cats not eat on their prey?

Which organs do cats not eat on their prey?

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My female cat is a very active hunter and brings me her prey daily. Except for shrews and birds, she always eats them entirely.

This afternoon she brought me this:

It was quite large (maybe between half and two thirds of the length of a mole), and I couldn't identify it (I'm in Europe if that matters).

The prey was already dead when my cat brought it to me, and she quickly started eating it. I noticed that she didn't eat this part:

I'm not a biologist, but I guess this is the stomach of an herbivorous animal? What's inside looked like wasabi.

Why didn't she eat it? She is not so picky with smaller animals. Is it because of the size of this one?

Are there some organs or parts of the prey that cats usually don't eat ?

That looks like some sort of rodent. The rodent stomach, while not as acidic as the human one, is still strongly acidic:

The mouse stomach pH was 3.0 (fed) and 4.0 (fasted), and the corresponding values in the rat were 3.2 (fed) and 3.9 (fasted).

From this article

Since it's clear from the picture that the organism had just eaten (the stomach had not yet emptied), the pH would be on the lower end of that spectrum.

In humans, acidic foods often taste sour, so it may be that the cat ran into a terrible taste at the base of the esophagus that caused her to stop there, but I don't know whether the taste buds on the cat are comparable to those in a human.

I think it depends on hunger, preferences…

Domestic cats can pretty much eat it all. They might discard items they can't digest like fur, relatively large bones… other than that what they leave behind is rather individual.

I'm guessing this cat doesn't like salads.

Typically I haven't seen hunting cats discard digestive organs. Aside from fur and big bones sometimes they might discard a head (probably because they don't feel like dealing with the skull).

It is known that Grizzly bears catching salmon during times of plenty only eat the head (the fish brain, as any brain, is rich in fats, easy to digest and basically luxury food). However, in times of shortage they consume pretty much the whole fish, as every scrap of food, even untasty and non-nutricious tail fins and the likes are better than nothing.

Your cat will chase, hunt and catch prey following its hunting instincts. When its well-fed, however, your cat is not really hungry and will eat only the tastiest and easiest parts (say liver etc), but will definitely skip smelly intestines with undigested plant material.

I can try to find a reference to the Grizzly study (pretty interesting study :-)

My cat brings us those too. So I guess it is very common to cats to not eat that part of a animal. My cat brings us one almost every morning so it is very common. This item they leave behind is called a gizzard. A gizzard is a part of the stomach that has strong acid in it so they know not to eat it.

Which organs do cats not eat on their prey? - Biology

Cats, like dogs, are carnivores. However, there are some significant differences between cats and dogs that I would like to discuss.

First, cats must eat fresh food. Cats do not have the metabolic means to digest "ripe" food and get rid of any toxic byproducts instead, they have evolved very specific taste and scent capabilities that would prevent them from eating anything that is not fresh. This, in part, is what accounts for the "pickiness" of cats. They are evolutionarily picky for good reason. When feeding a raw diet, this means that all of the cat's food must be fresh. Of course, it can be frozen first and then defrosted, but cats should not be fed any 'old' meat&mdashsave that for the dogs.

Second, it is strongly recommended that cats eat every day. It is not wise to fast a cat for more than 24 hours, and especially if the cat is overweight! Due to their unique metabolism, cats can suffer from 'hepatic lipidosis' if they do not receive adequate amounts of food. Thus, when switching a cat to a raw diet, one must be very careful that the cat eats something every day&mdasheven if that means mixing commercial food in with the raw food so the cat eats. For more information about hepatic lipidosis, please click here. The Mar Vista Vet site is purely informational and is not endorsed in any way by

Third, cats do not have the capability to create taurine from methionine and cysteine, like dogs do. This means that a cat must ingest sufficient taurine in order to meet its taurine requirements. The excellent news is that taurine is found in virtually all meats, especially beef heart. By feeding a cat a raw diet, the cat should receive the best, most bioavailable form of taurine via its food. There is one proviso: do not grind the food. Grinding increases the surface area of the meat and thus exposes more of the "good stuff" to the air. This results in oxidation of taurine and a resultant decrease in overall taurine available to the cat. Additionally, grinding creates the perfect environment for bacteria growth, and bacteria also utilize the taurine in the meat, thereby further decreasing the total amount of taurine available to your cat. Thus, if you feed your cat a ground raw diet, it may not receive all the taurine it needs to thrive, as is the case with a group of kittens fed whole, ground raw rabbit in this study. If you regularly feed ground raw to your cat (which I do not recommend unless your cat absolutely will not or cannot eat bones), then it is advisable that you supplement with taurine using either fresh beef heart (unground) or a commercial taurine supplement.


So how does one feed a cat a raw diet? Cats can eat the same raw foods a dog can eat, just in smaller portions and always fresh. They can eat game hens, chicken, quail, lamb, beef, pork, turkey, duck, fish, goat, venison, rabbit, mice, rats, eggs, and various organ meats. As with feeding dogs, you should try and re-create the whole prey your cat would be eating in the wild. If your cat is an avid hunter, then you may only just be supplementing with raw food occasionally. Some cats do not eat meat from animals that typically are not their prey, which may rule out beef, lamb, venison, and the like. However, this does not mean these meats should not be tried. On the contrary&mdashsome cats 'change their minds' about certain meats once they start eating fresh raw food. The trick is to keep offering it in various ways, even if that means mincing some of the beef in with some fish. Plus, since beef liver and beef heart (and kidney) are excellent sources of nutrients, I feel it is important that the cat learn to eat this. My own cat ate organs from cows before she would actually eat the meat from cows.

When you feed your cat, make sure the food is a) fresh, and b) warm. Most cats cannot tolerate frozen or cold food. The easiest way to defrost or warm up raw meaty bones is to place it in a ziploc bag and let it sit in a bowl of tepid/warm water for 10 minutes. Do not make the water so hot that it actually "cooks" the outside of the meat! NEVER put a raw meaty bone into the microwave to defrost it! I cannot emphasize this enough&mdashNEVER PUT A RAW MEATY BONE IN THE MICROWAVE. Microwaves cook from the inside out, and will cook the bone while the rest of the meat is still cool to the touch. The cooked bone will then be brittle and splintery.

The easiest method I have found for preparing a cat's food is to remove it from the freezer the previous night, let it sit and defrost in the fridge overnight, and then warm it up in a bowl of warm water before feeding. You may have to swap out the water in the bowl a few times if the raw meaty bone is really frozen, but that is easy to do. Just let the bowl and raw meaty bone sit next to or in the sink and leave it for fifteen minutes while you go do something else. Be advised, though, that some cats (like mine!) can be very impatient and will jump up onto the sink, grab the ziploc bag, drag it to the floor and rip it open to get to the meat inside.

Feed kittens several small meals over the course of the day. As the kitten matures, phase the food into two meals per day. You can either continue feeding your cat two meals a day, or switch it over to one meal per day. It depends on your cat and your preference. I alternate between feeding once a day and feeding twice a day it depends on what I have available for the cat. Some days she will get a little beef heart and beef liver for breakfast, and then for dinner she will have her raw meaty bone. Most days, however, I just feed her in the evening.

Feed cats about 2-3% of their body weight. Since most cats are fairly small creatures compared to dogs, this may be 1/4-lb or less. I tend to think of my cat's food in terms of overall size&mdashhow much can she put into her little belly at a feeding? For my cat, the most she will get over the course of the day is one cornish game hen breast half with an attached wing. This is about an inch longer than my palm, and is enough to make her belly completely full and even a little distended. She will eat most of it in one sitting, and will then come back for the rest within the hour. I do not feed her this amount every day after eating this much food she receives a smaller meal the next day&mdashmaybe a game hen leg-thigh, or a meal of beef heart and liver.

The best thing to do is to monitor your cat's body shape and weight. If the cat starts looking a little too lean and ribby, then up the amount of food. If the cat is looking too fat, then decrease the amount of food. You will quickly gain an understanding of just how much your cat needs to eat. Some cats will help you with this, as they will only eat as much as they need at one sitting and will leave any extra. If you have a cat like this, then great! Let the cat tell you when it is full. If you have a glutton of a cat, then you will have to monitor its intake.


You can feed your cat anywhere you like. You can feed in the kitchen, on top of the washer, in the bathroom, on the carpet, etc. You can feed the cat in a bowl, although my cat drags her raw meaty bone out of the bowl to eat it. My personal preference is to feed on a plastic placemat. The cat can then drag her food out of the bowl and eat it off the placemat. This keeps the floor from getting dirty (until she drags it off the placement. ) and makes her meal place an easy spot to keep clean. The bowl is still useful to me I use it to mix up an egg for her or to feed a little bit of canned fish every now and then. Sometimes my cat will use the bowl to her advantage when eating an awkward raw meaty bone. She will pull her food half-out of the bowl so that part of the raw meaty bone sticks up in the air, making it easy for her to eat it. Basically, where you feed, what you feed out of, and what you feed on are up to you and your cat.

Keep a dish of water handy for the cat. You will probably notice that the cat drinks much less water than before this is normal, as the raw food contains much more water than dry food. Also, cats evolved in an arid environment and usually do not drink a whole lot of water. Nevertheless, keep a dish of water out and keep it clean. Change the water daily for the cat.


I highly recommend that anyone wishing to feed their cat a raw diet join the Yahoo! RawCat group. Be sure to also visit for some great information on feeding cats a raw diet.

Some cats can be notoriously hard to switch due to their picky nature and due to the extreme addictiveness of many commercial pet foods. Some older cats will choose commercial foods over raw food any day, even after being fed a raw diet for a while. They are considered "pet food junkies", if you will. They are addicted to the carbohydrates and additives, and after eating it for so long their bodies respond automatically to anything that smells like or resembles commercial food.

Kittens typically are much easier to switch than older cats. To switch a kitten, simply offer it a piece of boneless meat, such as chicken breast. Make sure the meat is slightly warmer than room temperature. Leave the food down for a while (although not more than an hour or so) so the kitten has a chance to investigate it, play with it, taste it, and then hopefully eat it. If the kitten will not eat the meat and you know it is hungry, try drizzling a little tuna juice over it. Most kittens will taste the food immediately and then eat it quickly.

Feed boneless meats for a few meals so the kitten gets used to eating the raw food. Then add an easy bone like a bone-in game hen breast half. The bottom portion of the bone is very flexible and should be readily edible. The upper portion of the bone is fairly hard and the kitten may not eat it, but at least it will experience the texture of bone. If the breast is very meaty, cut off a portion of the meat to feed for later so that the kitten does not fill up on meat and not get to the bone. If the kitten is very tiny you can try feeding a game hen wing once the kitten has learned how to chew the bones, though, I would strongly recommend feeding the wing attached to a game hen breast so the kitten does not become "too bold" and tries to swallow the wing whole (I know this from experience!!). You can also try feeding chicken necks or wings as raw meaty bones for a kitten. The kitten may not be able to eat much of it and will thus need some supplemental 'meaty meals', but it should quickly get the hang of chomping on bones. Before you know it, your kitten will be disposing of raw meaty bones with ease! When this occurs, then you should feed pieces large enough for the kitten to really work at its meal.

Once the kitten is accustomed to eating raw food, be sure to start introducing organ meat. You can try feeding a little liver or heart by itself first if the kitten refuses, drizzle it with tuna juice. If the kitten still refuses, then chop up the liver or heart and mix it up with a tiny amount of canned tuna. The kitten should readily eat this concoction. Over time, decrease the amount of tuna and increase the size of the organ meat chunks until the kitten can eat organ meat by itself. Your kitten may surprise you, too, and start liking organ meat all by itself. My cat went from hating liver and eating it only if it was disguised to eating it on its own by herself in the course of one day. This same pattern occurred when new meats were introduced.

Start introducing a variety of meats over the course of time so that your kitten becomes accustomed to variety. Cats seem to tolerate initial variety better than many dogs, although too many organ meats can make their stools a little loose. If you have been feeding chicken, introduce a little turkey breast or ground turkey (although phase out the ground meat if you can). Try some other organ meats like chicken hearts, chicken liver, beef heart, beef liver, beef kidney (choose one and introduce each one slowly and individually). Try pork meat next, and then maybe some beef or lamb (my cat has finally begun to eat lamb, although she will readily attack a beef rib that is as long as she is!). If you can get rabbit for a decent price, then try that too. You can always introduce new meats in their ground form first (and sometimes that is one of the only ways people can afford rabbit or venison), but try to move away from ground meat as quickly as possible. If you are feeling brave, you can try feeding whole mice or fur-on rabbit to your cat.

Switching older cats can be troublesome depending on the cat and how long it has been eating commercial food. There are several things you can try.

First, if your cat is a free-choice feeder, break that habit now. Have your cat eat two meals a day by offering food at specified times for only 15 minutes each time. Start with three times a day and then cut back to two. A cat on a regular schedule should be easier to switch.

See if your cat will eat little bits of raw chicken breast as a treat. If he does, this may indicate that you can just switch him 'cold turkey'&mdashcommercial food one day, raw chicken the next. If your cat goes for this, then great! Switch him in a similar manner as the kitten.

If your cat will eat pieces of raw meat as a treat but not as a meal, you may have to start feeding him one "meal" of raw meat treats and then one meal of commercial food later. As his taste and tolerance for raw food grows, increase the amount of raw meat he eats and decrease the amount of commercial food. Soon, just feed him raw meat at each meal, and then progress with feeding more raw foods in the manner detailed above for the kitten. Get that commercial food out of the house and away from his sense of smell as soon as possible, though. You can keep a can or two of tuna or salmon or mackeral on hand just in case he decides to 'go off' raw food this way you can feed him something yummy while mixing raw food back into his diet. If he goes off raw food and does not have any other reason for doing so (i.e., is not sick, etc.), try cutting back to one meal per day. If he does not want the raw food the next time it is offered, try drizzling it with tuna juice. If he still does not want it, you may have to mix it up with a little tuna. If he still does not wish to eat and it has been 24 hours since his last meal, you may have to go buy a can of 'good quality' canned cat food, just so he will eat something. Mix the raw meat into it, though, so he is still receiving the texture and nutrition of the fresh food. Try to get him back on raw food as soon as possible. Sometimes all that is needed is a new protein source, too. The cat may tire of chicken and want something different. Thus, you could try a little pork meat to see if he eats it before purchasing canned cat food (think of the commercial food as a last resort).

What if your cat does not eat the raw meat at all? First, switch your cat to wet, canned food. Start by mixing a little of it in with his dry food, and then decrease the amount of dry food until the cat is eating only wet food. Then start mixing the wet food with raw food. Mix in some cut-up chicken breast, and slowly increase the amount of raw food until the cat will just eat the raw chicken. Then increase the size of the chunks so that the cat is finally eating a whole piece of raw chicken. After this point, begin branching out slowly to other cuts of chicken and maybe another protein like pork, and introduce a raw meaty bone. You can try hitting the raw meaty bone with a hammer to help break up some of the bones first—this may make it a little easier for the cat. Just be careful that the raw meaty bone does not go shooting off the counter onto the floor.

Some cats vehemently refuse bones. Bones are an absolutely necessary part of a raw diet, as they provide the necessary calcium and trace minerals as well as necessary teeth-cleaning effects. Bone meal and ground up egg shells just do not fully fill the role of bone in a raw diet they can do in a pinch for a short time, but they should not be used long-term. Thus, it is important for a cat to learn how to chew bones&mdashthe whole prey for the whole animal! Always check their mouths first to make sure there are no damaged or sensitive teeth resulting from their previous diet. Then, join the RawCat list if you have not joined already. The RawCat list is a place for people to ask questions and receive input, and the people there can offer many more suggestions than I!

Some people use pre-made, ground raw diets to switch their cats to raw food. I personally am not a fan of ground raw diets, for reasons already mentioned about taurine, and for reasons listed on the Ground Raw myth page. However, I understand that for some it can be an important stepping stone to a species appropriate raw diet. If you choose to use a ground raw diet for switching your cat, I strongly encourage you to begin feeding whole pieces of meat and raw meaty bones as soon as possible. Cats can and do become 'addicted' to pre-made raw diets and will not try anything else outside of them. Unfortunately, these diets do nothing for helping keep their teeth clean. Additionally, many of the pre-made diets contain vegetables vegetables are COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY for cats. Cats are 'obligate carnivores', meaning they MUST eat other animals to survive. They do not consume nor need plant matter. Everything they could possibly need is found in the flesh, bone, and organs of their prey.

Why do cats have belly 'pouches'?

Fat cats are cute, but not every cat that looks like it has a big belly is overweight. Although the part of a cat's underside that swings when it walks may look like a paunch, it's actually not a tummy at all. So what is it?

That bit of skin, fur and fat is a protective layer called the primordial pouch. It's positioned along the length of a cat's belly. These pouches are perfectly normal and healthy, said José Arce, president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association. All cats have primordial pouches, but they vary greatly in size some are almost undetectable. It's easiest to see a small pouch when it flops back and forth as a cat runs.

There are three main theories as to why cats have primordial pouches, Arce told Live Science. The first is that it protects the internal organs in a fight by adding an extra layer between claws or teeth and the feline's insides.

A second theory is that the pouch allows cats to move faster. It stretches as the felines run, giving them extra flexibility and the ability to go farther with each bound &mdash qualities that can help them evade predators or catch prey.

Another possibility is that the pouch is an extra space for storing food after a big meal. In the wild, cats don't get two square meals a day they eat when they can and may store fat from a large kill in their pouch for sustenance days later.

Primordial pouches aren't unique to domestic cats. Big cats, such as lions and tigers, have them for the same reasons, Arce noted. In house cats, the pouch starts to develop around 6 months of age in both males and females.

It's important to be able to tell whether your cat has a large primordial pouch or is overweight. Just like in people, obesity can lead to heart problems, diabetes and hypertension, Arce said. Being overweight can also increase cats' risk of arthritis and some types of cancer, he added.

One way to differentiate between the two is the cat's shape, Arce said. Obese cats have rounder bodies than healthy-weight cats with large pouches. If you're standing above the cat, you should be able to see an indentation at the hips, which is the cat's waist. The belly of an obese cat comes from the top of the underside and continues all the way down, but primordial pouches start farther down and are skewed toward the back legs. Another way to tell is that if you have to press hard to feel your cat's ribs, your pet is probably overweight. Finally, bellies don't swing the way pouches do when cats walk or run.

If you suspect that your cat is overweight, ask your veterinarian. They may suggest feeding your feline a low-fat, high-fiber diet, Arce said. To keep your cat healthy, make sure it hits the recommended target of 15 minutes of exercise per day by encouraging it to play with toys. If your cat isn't used to exercising, start slowly. If it's panting, it's probably overexerting itself.

Permanent dentition teeth Edit

Cats are carnivores that have highly specialized teeth. There are four types of permanent dentition teeth that structure the mouth: twelve incisors, four canines, ten premolars and four molars. [1] The premolar and first molar are located on each side of the mouth that together are called the carnassial pair. The carnassial pair specialize in cutting food and are parallel to the jaw. [2] The incisors located in the front section of the lower and upper mouth are small, narrow, and have a single root. They are used for grasping and biting food. [2]

Deciduous dentition teeth Edit

A cat also has a deciduous dentition prior to the formation of the permanent one. This dentition emerges seven days after birth and it is composed of 26 teeth with slight differences. The mouth will have smaller incisors, slender and strongly curved upper canines, vertical lower canines, and even smaller upper and lower molars. [2] Although the upper and lower molars are smaller than the ones that arise during permanent dentition, the similarities are striking. [2]

Tongue Edit

The cat's tongue is covered in a mucous membrane and the dorsal aspect has 5 types of sharp spines, or papillae. The 5 papillae are filiform, fungiform, foliate, vallate, and conical. [2] A cats sense of smell and taste work closely together, having a vomeronasal organ that allows them to use their tongue as scent tasters, [3] while its longitudinal, transverse, and vertical intrinsic muscles aid in movement. [2]

Thirty-two individual muscles in each ear allow for a kind of directional hearing [4] a cat can move each ear independently of the other. Because of this mobility, a cat can move its body in one direction and point its ears in another direction. Most cats have straight ears pointing upward. Unlike with dogs, flap-eared breeds are extremely rare (Scottish Folds have one such exceptional mutation). When angry or frightened, a cat will lay back its ears to accompany the growling or hissing sounds it makes. Cats also turn their ears back when they are playing or to listen to a sound coming from behind them. The fold of skin forming a pouch on the lower posterior part of the ear, known as Henry's pocket, is usually prominent in a cat's ear. [5] Its function is unknown, though it may assist in filtering sounds.

Cats are highly territorial, and secretion of odors plays a major role in cat communication. The nose helps cats to identify territories, other cats and mates, to locate food, and has various other uses. [6] A cat's sense of smell is believed to be about fourteen times more sensitive than that of humans. The rhinarium (the leathery part of the nose we see) is quite tough, to allow it to absorb rather rough treatment sometimes. The color varies according to the genotype (genetic makeup) of the cat. A cat's skin has the same color as the fur, but the color of the nose leather is probably dictated by a dedicated gene. Cats with white fur have skin susceptible to damage by ultraviolet light, which may cause cancer. Extra care is required when outside in the hot sun. [7]

Cats are digitigrades, which means that they walk on their toes just like dogs. The advantage of this is that cats (including other digitigrades) are more agile than other animals. This is because all animals usually have ground reaction forces (GRFs) at around two to three times their body weight per limb. Digitigrades have a higher GRF compared to other animals due to the increased weight on a smaller surface area, which would be about six times their body weight per limb. [8]

Cats are also able to walk very precisely. Adult cats walk with a "four-beat gait" meaning that each foot does not step on the same spot as each other. Whether they walk fast or slow, a cat's walk is considered symmetric because the right limbs imitate the position of the left limbs as they walk. This type of locomotion provides sense of touch on all four paws that are necessary for precise coordination. [9]

The Cat's vertebra are held by muscles rather than ligaments like humans. [10] This contributes to the cat's elasticity and ability to elongate and contract their back by curving it upwards or oscillating it along their vertebral line. [11]

Cats are also able to jump from larger heights without serious injury due to the efficient performance in their limbs and ability to control impact forces. In this case, hindlimbs are able to absorb more shock and energy in comparison to the forelimbs, when jumping from surface to surface, as well as steer the cat for weight bearing and breaking. [12] [13]

Like nearly all members of the family Felidae, cats have protractable claws. In their normal, relaxed position, the claws are sheathed with the skin and fur around the toe pads. This keeps the claws sharp by preventing wear from contact with the ground and allows the silent stalking of prey. The claws on the forefeet are typically sharper than those on the hind feet. [14] Cats can voluntarily extend their claws on one or more paws. They may extend their claws in hunting or self-defense, climbing, "kneading", or for extra traction on soft surfaces (bedspreads, thick rugs, skin, etc.). It is also possible to make a cooperative cat extend its claws by carefully pressing both the top and bottom of the paw. The curved claws can become entangled in carpet or thick fabric, which can cause injury if the cat is unable to free itself.

Most cats have a total of 18 digits and claws. 5 on each forefoot, the 5th digit being the dewclaw and 4 on each hind foot. The dewclaw is located high on the foreleg, is not in contact with the ground and is non-weight bearing. [15]

Some cats can have more than 18 digits, due to a common mutation called polydactyly or polydactylism, [16] which can result in five to seven toes per paw.

The normal body temperature of a cat is between 38.3 and 39.0 °C (100.9 and 102.2 °F). [17] A cat is considered febrile (hyperthermic) if it has a temperature of 39.5 °C (103.1 °F) or greater, or hypothermic if less than 37.5 °C (99.5 °F). For comparison, humans have an average body temperature of about 37.0 °C (98.6 °F). [18] A domestic cat's normal heart rate ranges from 140 to 220 beats per minute (bpm), and is largely dependent on how excited the cat is. For a cat at rest, the average heart rate usually is between 150 and 180 bpm, more than twice that of a human, which averages 70 bpm. [19]

Cats possess rather loose skin this allows them to turn and confront a predator or another cat in a fight, even when it has a grip on them. This is also an advantage for veterinary purposes, as it simplifies injections. [20] In fact, the lives of cats with chronic kidney disease can sometimes be extended for years by the regular injection of large volumes of fluid subcutaneously. [21] [22]

The particularly loose skin at the back of the neck is known as the scruff, and is the area by which a mother cat grips her kittens to carry them. As a result, cats tend to become quiet and passive when gripped there. This behavior also extends into adulthood, when a male will grab the female by the scruff to immobilize her while he mounts, and to prevent her from running away as the mating process takes place. [23]

This technique can be useful when attempting to treat or move an uncooperative cat. However, since an adult cat is heavier than a kitten, a pet cat should never be carried by the scruff, but should instead have its weight supported at the rump and hind legs, and at the chest and front paws. [ original research? ]

Some cats share common traits due to heredity. One of those is the primordial pouch, sometimes referred to as "spay sway" by owners who notice it once the cat has been spayed or neutered. It is located on a cat's belly. Its appearance is similar to a loose flap of skin that might occur if the cat had been overweight and had then lost weight. It provides a little extra protection against kicks, which are common during cat fights as a cat will try to rake with its rear claws. In wild cats, the ancestors of domesticated felines, this pouch appears to be present to provide extra room in case the animal has the opportunity to eat a large meal and the stomach needs to expand. This stomach pouch also allows the cat to bend and expand, allowing for faster running and higher jumping. [24]

  1. Cervical or neck bones (7 in number).
  2. Dorsal or thoracic bones (13 in number, each bearing a rib).
  3. Lumbar bones (7 in number).
  4. Sacral bones (3 in number).
  5. Caudal or tail bones (19 to 21 in number).
  1. Cranium, or skull.
  2. Mandible, or lower jaw.
  3. Scapula, or shoulder-blade.
  4. Sternum, or breast-bone.
  5. Humerus.
  6. Radius.
  7. Phalanges of the toes.
  8. Metacarpal bones.
  9. Carpal or wrist-bones.
  10. Ulna.
  11. Ribs.
  12. Patella, or knee-cap.
  13. Tibia.
  14. Metatarsal bones.
  15. Tarsal bones.
  16. Fibula.
  17. Femur, or thigh-bone.
  18. Pelvis, or hip-bone.

Cats have seven cervical vertebrae like almost all mammals, thirteen thoracic vertebrae (humans have twelve), seven lumbar vertebrae (humans have five), three sacral vertebrae (humans have five because of their bipedal posture), and, except for Manx cats and other shorter tailed cats, twenty-two or twenty-three caudal vertebrae (humans have three to five, fused into an internal coccyx). The extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's enhanced spinal mobility and flexibility, compared to humans. The caudal vertebrae form the tail, used by the cat as a counterbalance to the body during quick movements. Between their vertebrae, they have elastic discs, useful for cushioning the jump landings.

Unlike human arms, cat forelimbs are attached to the shoulder by free-floating clavicle bones, which allows them to pass their body through any space into which they can fit their heads. [25]

Skull Edit

The cat skull is unusual among mammals in having very large eye sockets and a powerful and specialized jaw. [26] : 35 Compared to other felines, domestic cats have narrowly spaced canine teeth, adapted to their preferred prey of small rodents. [27]

Internal abdominal oblique Edit

This muscle's origin is the lumbodorsal fascia and ribs. Its insertion is at the pubis and linea alba (via aponeurosis), and its action is the compression of abdominal contents. It also laterally flexes and rotates the vertebral column.

Transversus abdominis Edit

This muscle is the innermost abdominal muscle. Its origin is the second sheet of the lumbodorsal fascia and the pelvic girdle and its insertion is the linea alba. Its action is the compression of the abdomen.

Rectus abdominis Edit

To see this muscle, first remove the extensive aponeurosis situated on the ventral surface of the cat. Its fibers are extremely longitudinal, on each side of the linea alba. It is also traversed by the inscriptiones tendinae, or what others called myosepta.

Deltoid Edit

The deltoid muscles lie just lateral to the trapezius muscles, originating from several fibers spanning the clavicle and scapula, converging to insert at the humerus. Anatomically, there are only two deltoids in the cat, the acromiodeltoid and the spinodeltoid. However, to conform to human anatomy standards, the clavobrachialis is now also considered a deltoid and is commonly referred to as the clavodeltoid.

Acromiodeltoid Edit

The acromiodeltoid is the shortest of the deltoid muscles. It lies lateral to (to the side of) the clavodeltoid, and in a more husky cat it can only be seen by lifting or reflecting the clavodeltoid. It originates at the acromion process and inserts at the deltoid ridge. When contracted, it raises and rotates the humerus outward.

Spinodeltoid Edit

A stout and short muscle lying posterior to the acromiodeltoid. It lies along the lower border of the scapula, and it passes through the upper arm, across the upper end of muscles of the upper arm. It originates at the spine of the scapula and inserts at the deltoid ridge. Its action is to raise and rotate the humerus outward.

Head Edit

Masseter Edit

The Masseter is a great, powerful, and very thick muscle covered by a tough, shining fascia lying ventral to the zygomatic arch, which is its origin. It inserts into the posterior half of the lateral surface of the mandible. Its action is the elevation of the mandible (closing of the jaw).

Temporalis Edit

The temporalis is a great mass of mandibular muscle, and is also covered by a tough and shiny fascia. It lies dorsal to the zygomatic arch and fills the temporal fossa of the skull. It arises from the side of the skull and inserts into the coronoid process of the mandible. It too, elevates the jaw.

Integumental Edit

The two main integumentary muscles of a cat are the platysma and the cutaneous maximus. The cutaneous maximus covers the dorsal region of the cat and allows it to shake its skin. The platysma covers the neck and allows the cat to stretch the skin over the pectoralis major and deltoid muscles.

Neck and back Edit

Rhomboideus Edit

The rhomboideus is a thick, large muscle below the trapezius muscles. It extends from the vertebral border of the scapula to the mid-dorsal line. Its origin is from the neural spines of the first four thoracic vertebrae, and its insertion is at the vertebral border of the scapula. Its action is to draw the scapula to the dorsal.

Rhomboideus capitis Edit

The Rhomboideus capitis is the most cranial of the deeper muscles. It is underneath the clavotrapezius. Its origin is the superior nuchal line, and its insertion is at the scapula. Action draws scapula cranially.

Splenius Edit

The Splenius is the most superficial of all the deep muscles. It is a thin, broad sheet of muscle underneath the clavotrapezius and deflecting it. It is crossed also by the rhomboideus capitis. Its origin is the mid-dorsal line of the neck and fascia. The insertion is the superior nuchal line and atlas. It raises or turns the head.

Serratus ventralis Edit

The serratus ventralis is exposed by cutting the wing-like latissimus dorsi. The said muscle is covered entirely by adipose tissue. The origin is from the first nine or ten ribs and from part of the cervical vertebrae.

Serratus Dorsalis Edit

The serratus dorsalis is medial to both the scapula and the serratus ventralis. Its origin is via apoeurosis following the length of the mid-dorsal line, and its insertion is the dorsal portion of the last ribs. Its action is to depress and retracts the ribs during breathing.

Intercostals Edit

The intercostals are a set of muscles sandwiched among the ribs. They interconnect ribs, and are therefore the primary respiratory skeletal muscles. They are divided into the external and the internal subscapularis. The origin and insertion are in the ribs. The intercostals pull the ribs backwards or forwards.

Caudofemoralis Edit

The caudofemoralis is a muscle found in the pelvic limb. [28] The Caudofemoralis acts to flex the tail laterally to its respective side when the pelvic limb is bearing weight. When the pelvic limb is lifted off the ground, contraction of the caudofemoralis causes the limb to abduct and the shank to extend by extending the hip joint.

Pectoral Edit

Pectoantebrachialis Edit

Pectoantebrachialis muscle is just one-half-inch wide and is the most superficial in the pectoral muscles. Its origin is the manubrium of the sternum, and its insertion is in a flat tendon on the fascia of the proximal end of the ulna. Its action is to draw the arm towards the chest. There is no human equivalent.

Pectoralis major Edit

The pectoralis major, also called pectoralis superficialis, is a broad triangular portion of the pectoralis muscle which is immediately below the pectoantebrachialis. It is smaller than the pectoralis minor muscle. Its origin is the sternum and median ventral raphe, and its insertion is at the humerus. Its action is to draw the arm towards the chest.

Pectoralis minor Edit

The pectoralis minor muscle is larger than the pectoralis major. However, most of its anterior border is covered by the pectoralis major. Its origins are ribs three–five, and its insertion is the coracoid process of the scapula. Its actions are the tipping of the scapula and the elevation of ribs three–five.

Xiphihumeralis Edit

The most posterior, flat, thin, and long strip of pectoral muscle is the xiphihumeralis. It is a band of parallel fibers that is found in felines but not in humans. Its origin is the xiphoid process of the sternum. The insertion is the humerus.

Trapezius Edit

In the cat there are three thin flat muscles that cover the back, and to a lesser extent, the neck. They pull the scapula toward the mid-dorsal line, anteriorly, and posteriorly.

Clavotrapezius Edit

The most anterior of the trapezius muscles, it is also the largest. Its fibers run obliquely to the ventral surface. Its origin is the superior nuchal line and median dorsal line and its insertion is the clavicle. Its action is to draw the clavicle dorsally and towards the head.

Acromiotrapezius Edit

Acromiotrapezius is the middle trapezius muscle. It covers the dorsal and lateral surfaces of the scapula. Its origin is the neural spines of the cervical vertebrae and its insertion is in the metacromion process and fascia of the clavotrapezius. Its action is to draw the scapula to the dorsal, and hold the two scapula together.

Spinotrapezius Edit

Spinotrapezius, also called thoracic trapezius, is the most posterior of the three. It is triangular shaped. Posterior to the acromiotrapezius and overlaps latissimus dorsi on the front. Its origin is the neural spines of the thoracic vertebrae and its insertion is the scapular fascia. Its action is to draw the scapula to the dorsal and caudal region.

The digestion system of cats begins with their sharp teeth and abrasive tongue papillae, which help them tear meat, which is most, if not all, of their diet. Cats naturally do not have a diet high in carbohydrates, and therefore, their saliva doesn't contain the enzyme amylase. [29] Food moves from the mouth through the esophagus and into the stomach. The gastrointestinal tract of domestic cats contains a small cecum and unsacculated colon. [30] The cecum while similar to dogs, doesn't have a coiled cecum.

The stomach of the cat can be divided into distinct regions of motor activity. The proximal end of the stomach relaxes when food is digested. [30] While food is being digested this portion of the stomach either has rapid stationary contractions or a sustained tonic contraction of muscle. [30] These different actions result in either the food being moved around or the food moving towards the distal portion of the stomach. [30] The distal portion of the stomach undergoes rhythmic cycles of partial depolarization. [29] This depolarization sensitizes muscle cells so they are more likely to contract. The stomach is not only a muscular structure, it also serves a chemical function by releasing hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes to break down food.

Food moves from the stomach into the small intestine. The first part of the small intestine is the duodenum. As food moves through the duodenum, it mixes with bile, a fluid that neutralizes stomach acid and emulsifies fat. The pancreas releases enzymes that aid in digestion so that nutrients can be broken down and pass through the intestinal mucosa into the blood and travel to the rest of the body. [30] The pancreas doesn't produce starch processing enzymes because cats don't eat a diet high in carbohydrates. [29] Since the cat digests low amounts of glucose, the pancreas uses amino acids to trigger insulin release instead.

Food then moves on to the jejunum. This is the most nutrient absorptive section of the small intestine. The liver regulates the level of nutrients absorbed into the blood system from the small intestine. From the jejunum, whatever food that has not been absorbed is sent to the ileum which connects to the large intestine. [31] The first part of the large intestine is the cecum and the second portion is the colon. The large intestine reabsorbs water and forms fecal matter.

There are some things that the cats are not able to digest. For example, cats clean themselves by licking their fur with their tongue, which causes them to swallow a lot of fur. This causes a build-up of fur in a cat's stomach and creates a mass of fur. This is often thrown up and is better known as a hairball. [32]

The short length of the digestive tract of the cat causes cats' digestive system to weigh less than other species of animals, which allows cats to be active predators. [29] While cats are well adapted to be predators they have a limited ability to regulate catabolic enzymes of amino acids meaning amino acids are constantly being destroyed and not absorbed. [29] Therefore, cats require a higher protein proportion in their diet than many other species. Cats are not adapted to synthesize niacin from tryptophan and, because they are carnivores, can't convert carotene to vitamin A, so eating plants while not harmful does not provide them nutrients.

Do Cats Have Natural Predators?

Predators eat other organisms. The different types of predators are defined by what the predator eats, and how it harvests that food. The four main types of predators are carnivorous, herbivorous, parasitic, and mutualistic.

A carnivorous predator must hunt and kill its prey. Carnivorous predators are broken up into two further types: those that primarily scavenge carcasses, and those that primarily hunt and kill prey independently. There are many carnivorous predators, including wolves, cougars, owls, and snakes. Herbivorous predators, like krill, horses, and porcupines, consume autotrophs (plants and algae).

The final two types of predators involve small, sometimes microscopic, organisms living within another animal—flatworms living within a domestic cat, for example. Mutualism is when this smaller organism lives in harmony with its host and causes no harm. An example is the bacteria that live in the digestive tract. Parasitism, however, can impact or even kill the host. This means that the parasite deprives the host of essential nutrients to the point where its health declines.

Each of the above types of predators can be further broken down into more detailed and specific categories. For example, insectivores (animals that primarily prey on and eat insects) are a carnivore sub-type. Also, omnivores practice predation on plants and animals. The predators’ list below is primarily made up of strict carnivores.


Snakes are found throughout most of America, so encounters with snakes are common. The majority of snake species wouldn’t consider an adult cat to be a source of food. The snakes that may include:

Pythons and Boas

Even though pythons are nonvenomous, members of the Pythonidae family still pose a danger to cats. Any snake that’s large enough to prey upon small mammals will consider cats prey. Many large, nonvenomous snakes found in the U.S., such as boa constrictors, started off life as domestic pets.

Also, the Burmese python will prey upon cats. Research published in Biological Invasions notes that Burmese pythons are established in Florida. Encounters with this snake are not uncommon, and there are concerns about the snake population spreading beyond the Everglades.

Pythons are ambush predators. A python will lay in wait for a meal to cross its path. Using its strong sense of smell and heat-sensing pits, it targets its meal. It will then latch onto its prey before wrapping the animal in its powerful coils. Constriction can kill a cat in a matter of minutes.

Diamondback Rattlesnakes

A diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in the U.S. There are dozens of reported cases where a cat has been bitten by one of these deadly pit vipers. However, there is little evidence of rattlesnakes actively preying upon cats. However, eastern and western diamondbacks are large enough to consider smaller cats, or juvenile and sub-adult cats, as prey.

A curious cat may antagonize a rattlesnake, triggering a defensive response. If the snake is hungry and the cat is small enough, the snake may follow the ‘waste not, want not’ principle. Large adult eastern and western diamondbacks will eat fully-grown rabbits. A small domestic cat is about the same size.

Rattlesnakes are a part of the Viperidae family. As ambush predators, they will remain motionless and silent until a prey animal wanders too close. Eastern and western diamondbacks have hemotoxic venom that causes tissue damage and attacks red blood cells. So, a cat will quickly succumb to envenomation.

Dogs, both feral and domestic, will occasionally prey upon cats. How an interaction might go between a cat and a dog will depend on their personalities and upbringings. A cat and dog may be completely ambivalent towards one another. Conversely, they may attack one another.

A dog may chase a cat upon sight. This can be out of genuine aggression, territorial instincts, or the desire to play. A cat may also attack on sight, although it is more likely to puff up in a threat display first. Aggressive dogs and feral dogs may actively hunt cats.


Coyotes are a part of the Canidae family and are prevalent throughout the U.S. Coyotes live in packs and as individuals. The Journal of Wildlife Management found that coyotes actively prey upon cats, especially during the pup-rearing season. This study also found that both packs and individuals would successfully attack and kill cats.

Coyotes hunt using their olfactory senses and keen eyesight. Coyotes will hunt in pairs or packs to take down larger prey, such as deer. Individuals will prey upon smaller animals, such as squirrels, rodents, birds, and even domestic cats. As an opportunistic predator, a coyote will prey upon whatever it comes across.


Wolves are the largest surviving member of the Canidae family. As noted in the Journal of Forestry Research, wolves were almost driven to extinction through habitat loss and hunting. Before total extinction, it was recognized that wolves were an essential part of the ecosystem for prey population control.

So, repopulation and conservation efforts were put into place. This included wolves being protected in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act. Due to this, and human populations encroaching on their natural habitats, wolf-human interactions are becoming more commonplace. This also includes wolf-cat interactions.

Wolves are opportunistic hunters, so they will prey upon cats if they have the chance. This is most likely during the colder months when other prey is scarce, or while the pack is rearing young pups.


A camera was set up to monitor a nest and captured footage of a cat being eaten by a family of bald eagles. Experts have said, previously and since this event, that eagles preying upon cats is uncommon.

It is believed that only large eagles have the ability and strength to prey upon cats. The Bureau of Land Management notes that the bald eagle is the second largest bird of prey found in North America.

Eagles hunt during the day, and will swoop down and latch onto their prey. This prey consists of fish, birds, small mammals, and rodents. Large eagles are capable of preying upon cats, but whether they would is uncertain.


Cougars, also known as pumas and mountain lions, primarily hunt deer, coyotes, porcupines, elk, and raccoons. Livestock herds are also a temptation for cougars, which is why farmers hunted the species.

Cougars are opportunistic, nocturnal hunters. Usually, hunting will occur between dusk and dawn. Much like the domestic cat, a cougar will stealthily sneak up on its prey. At the right moment, it will lunge and aim a deadly bite for the back of its prey’s neck. Cougars have been known to prey upon pets, especially those allowed to roam outside at night.

Large owls can prey upon cats. This includes the great horned owl, which is thought to have the most diverse diet of all raptors. Also, the snowy owl.

Owls hunt from above. One will usually identify its prey while perched at a height. It will then swoop down silently. An owl will latch onto its prey using its sharp talons. Prey is usually killed by being crushed by this powerful grip, trauma caused by the talons, or a quick bite to the neck.

Snowy owls can be found in the northern U.S. when food is scarce. The great horned owl is the largest owl species found in North America. Both prey upon a variety of rodents and larger mammals, including raccoons.

Given that cats are similar in size to raccoons and like to explore when it’s dark, it puts them at risk of being preyed upon by an owl. Owls can fly silently, so a cat may not know it is being hunted until it is too late.


Of all the hawk species found in the U.S., only the red-tailed hawk is capable of preying upon cats.

The red-tailed hawk is the most common hawk found in the U.S. This raptor hunts small animals, and it won’t distinguish between wild mammals and a small cat. As such, smaller cats and kittens can be preyed upon by hawks. This is not a common occurrence, and reported cases seem to revolve around when pets are left outside unsupervised.

Hawks will seek out prey by using their excellent eyesight. A hawk will coast along in the air and scan the ground for prey. It may also find a comfortable perch and wait for a suitable animal to cross its field of vision.


Although a wolverine may look like a small bear, it actually belongs to the weasel family. A wolverine will forage upon vegetation and berries, but its diet is primarily meat-based.

Wolverines have been known to attack and subdue prey many times their size. They have also been blamed for missing cats. Only a small number of missing cat cases are actually connected to wolverine attacks.

How Did Sabercats Use Those Outlandish Fangs?

Of all the vicious smiles to have ever evolved, it’s hard to beat the grin of the aptly named Smilodon. The largest of these Ice Age cats sported canines that were 11 inches long, with fine serrations giving the fangs even more of a cutting edge. Yet despite the fact that this felid has been famous for its dental cutlery ever since the early 19th century, paleontologists are still trying to figure out just how it used its impressive teeth. How do you bite when you have an excess of tooth?

There’s no shortage of ideas about what Smilodon did with its ludicrously long fangs. The 19th century paleontologists Richard Owen and Edward Drinker Cope, for example, both suggested that Smilodon was a living can-opener, those teeth being an adaptation to cut through the tough and often armored hides of giant sloths and huge armadillos. Other experts, such as paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, proposed that Smilodon used them to slash or stab. It was even suggested that the palate of the great sabercat suggested a propensity for sucking, painting Smilodon as a sort of Ice Age vampire.

Sadly, there are no living Smilodon to study—the last of these cats died out about 8,000 years ago—and the humans who undoubtedly saw them did not think to carefully document their feeding habits. On top of that, today’s big cats aren’t very helpful as analogs. Lions, for example, have shorter, conical teeth and use “throttling bites” to clamp around the throats of large prey, clamping down the windpipe. This option wasn’t open to Smilodon. But thanks to reinvestigations of old bones and high-tech analysis, paleontologists are finally starting to get a handle on how Smilodon employed those terrible teeth.

Related Content

An artist's imagining of a Smilodon looking into the grass at something threatening. (Stocktrek Images, Inc. / Alamy)

Part of the answer is to stop thinking just about teeth and jaws. With an anatomist’s eye, various aspects of the Smilodon skull jump into focus as different from those of their living feline cousins. “The back and base of sabercat skulls tend to show very expanded and bulky bony areas for the attachment of large neck muscles,” says Zhijie Jack Tseng, a paleontologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, “leading some researchers to suggest that prey killing involved significant contribution of neck power.”

A 2007 study by Colin McHenry and colleagues, for example, found that Smilodon had a bite only about a third as powerful as a lion’s, yet the fossil feline had bulky neck muscles that would have aided a quick killing stroke.

Having saberteeth wouldn’t be of much benefit without a jaw able to open extraordinarily wide. That's why many sabercats also have modified lower jaw joints that allowed the jaws to swing open to clear those fangs, Tseng says. And looking beyond the skull and neck, Smilodon also had exceptionally muscular arms. Taken together, says Des Moines University paleontologist Julie Meachen, it's likely that “Smilodon used its very muscular neck and forearms to assist in the kill bite.”

Keeping prey pinned down was critical to the process. Compared to today’s lions and tigers, Tseng says, “the thin sabers suggest that, whatever the killing behavior, it was more important for Smilodon to keep the prey immobilized long enough to use the sabers so they don’t bend sideways in the direction of weakness.” This risk isn’t just theoretical: Rare specimens of Smilodon from the La Brea asphalt and other sites bear broken fangs.

Envisioning how Smilodon killed the horses and camels of its time, then, is not just about the bite. Smilodon didn't have the proportions of a fast-running cat, Meachen says, meaning that the beast “probably would stalk its prey from a hidden position, then leap out at prey and knock it off balance using its weight.” The arms came into play at this moment, grappling and pinning the victim as the cat got ready to inflict the fatal blow.

Here, however, we hit a freeze frame there's still some uncertainty about how Smilodon would have best employed its teeth. “Either Smilodon would rip out the prey’s throat,” Meachen says, “or it would make a precise killing bite, severing the carotid artery and then it would remove its teeth and start eating.” Either way, it would have been a huge mess.

Naturally, Smilodon wasn’t the only sabertooth around. The cat was among the last, the largest and—thanks to the thousands of bones pulled from the asphalt of La Brea—best-known, but sabertoothed carnives have evolved over and over again throughout the history of life. Looking at the filiform side of the carnivoran family tree alone, sabertooths evolved at least three times: both the true sabercats and two lineages of “false” sabercats called nimravids and barbourofelids. This raises the question of whether sabercats may one day make a comeback.

Some point to the clouded leopard of Asia has sometimes as having the potential to become the next sabertooth. The cat’s canines are long for its size perhaps, over time and with the right evolutionary nudging, the clouded leopard or another cat could take Smilodon's place. Whether that ever happens, though, depends on the fate of today’s felids: Clouded leopards are currently listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

“I think it’s possible, hypothetically in an ideal world,” that a new sabercat could evolve, Meachen says. “But I think in the real word, most carnivores will become extinct due to habitat loss, hunting and climate change.” If we’re ever going to see sabercats return, we’ll have to safeguard the imperiled cats around us today. 

About Riley Black

Riley Black is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology and natural history who blogs regularly for Scientific American.

Best Cats For Catching Mice

I got my cats for the snuggles and for my kids to play with. But some people get their cats for other reason like getting rid of mice!

There’re too many cat breeds out there to choose from when you want to get rid of mice.

There’re also those cats that shine the brightest when it comes to having the wits and claws catching mice.

But if you’re on the hunt for a cat, please head to your local ASPCA or shelter to find one.

Ask about the personalities or behaviors to help make your choice like:

  • Demeanor – they’ll likely be super attentive.
  • Behavior – you can watch how they move or how they react to their surroundings.
  • Origin – where was the cat found, like a barn. I’ll bet they’re good at killing mice.
  • Good with kids – if they’re good hunters make sure they are gentle with small kids.

Below is a list of cats that are good for catching mice:

  1. American Shorthair
  2. Maine Coon
  3. Siberian
  4. Siamese
  5. Chartreux
  6. Burmese
  7. Manx
  8. Turkish Angora
  9. Japanese Bobtail
  10. Persian

You can even train your cat to hunt mice:

Why do cats only eat the heads of rabbits and not the body?

I've recently came across an interesting phenomenon. My cat often catches rabbits but only eats their heads while the bodies are left pretty much untouched. I googled this and many report the same finding and nobody knows why.

Could it be because there might be less chance of parasites in the head due to the blood brain barrier? How would a cat know this though?

Obviously, your cat is a zombie.

I've known cats to do the opposite, eating most of the body and leaving the head of the animal on the doorstep for people to find, so it isn't a universal thing.

Most predators will favour the nutrient rich organs of their prey before eating the muscles, and it could be that your cat has decided that the brain is the best source of nutrients in the rabbits its catching. It could also be that your cat is not killing for food but surplus killing, but goes a bit over the top with the "killing it" part and ends up devouring the head rather than just crushing it a little bit.


At the most basic level, predators kill and eat other organisms. However, the concept of predation is broad, defined differently in different contexts, and includes a wide variety of feeding methods and some relationships that result in the prey's death are not generally called predation. A parasitoid, such as an ichneumon wasp, lays its eggs in or on its host the eggs hatch into larvae, which eat the host, and it inevitably dies. Zoologists generally call this a form of parasitism, though conventionally parasites are thought not to kill their hosts. A predator can be defined to differ from a parasitoid in that it has many prey, captured over its lifetime, where a parasitoid's larva has just one, or at least has its food supply provisioned for it on just one occasion. [1] [2]

There are other difficult and borderline cases. Micropredators are small animals that, like predators, feed entirely on other organisms they include fleas and mosquitoes that consume blood from living animals, and aphids that consume sap from living plants. However, since they typically do not kill their hosts, they are now often thought of as parasites. [3] [4] Animals that graze on phytoplankton or mats of microbes are predators, as they consume and kill their food organisms but herbivores that browse leaves are not, as their food plants usually survive the assault. [5] When animals eat seeds (seed predation or granivory) or eggs (egg predation), they are consuming entire living organisms, which by definition makes them predators. [6] [7] [8]

Scavengers, organisms that only eat organisms found already dead, are not predators, but many predators such as the jackal and the hyena scavenge when the opportunity arises. [9] [10] [5] Among invertebrates, social wasps (yellowjackets) are both hunters and scavengers of other insects. [11]

While examples of predators among mammals and birds are well known, [12] predators can be found in a broad range of taxa including arthropods. They are common among insects, including mantids, dragonflies, lacewings and scorpionflies. In some species such as the alderfly, only the larvae are predatory (the adults do not eat). Spiders are predatory, as well as other terrestrial invertebrates such as scorpions centipedes some mites, snails and slugs nematodes and planarian worms. [13] In marine environments, most cnidarians (e.g., jellyfish, hydroids), ctenophora (comb jellies), echinoderms (e.g., sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers) and flatworms are predatory. [14] Among crustaceans, lobsters, crabs, shrimps and barnacles are predators, [15] and in turn crustaceans are preyed on by nearly all cephalopods (including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish). [16]

Seed predation is restricted to mammals, birds, and insects but is found in almost all terrestrial ecosystems. [8] [6] Egg predation includes both specialist egg predators such as some colubrid snakes and generalists such as foxes and badgers that opportunistically take eggs when they find them. [17] [18] [19]

Some plants, like the pitcher plant, the Venus fly trap and the sundew, are carnivorous and consume insects. [12] Methods of predation by plants varies greatly but often involves a food trap, mechanical stimulation, and electrical impulses to eventually catch and consume its prey. [20] Some carnivorous fungi catch nematodes using either active traps in the form of constricting rings, or passive traps with adhesive structures. [21]

Many species of protozoa (eukaryotes) and bacteria (prokaryotes) prey on other microorganisms the feeding mode is evidently ancient, and evolved many times in both groups. [22] [12] [23] Among freshwater and marine zooplankton, whether single-celled or multi-cellular, predatory grazing on phytoplankton and smaller zooplankton is common, and found in many species of nanoflagellates, dinoflagellates, ciliates, rotifers, a diverse range of meroplankton animal larvae, and two groups of crustaceans, namely copepods and cladocerans. [24]

To feed, a predator must search for, pursue and kill its prey. These actions form a foraging cycle. [26] [27] The predator must decide where to look for prey based on its geographical distribution and once it has located prey, it must assess whether to pursue it or to wait for a better choice. If it chooses pursuit, its physical capabilities determine the mode of pursuit (e.g., ambush or chase). [28] [29] Having captured the prey, it may also need to expend energy handling it (e.g., killing it, removing any shell or spines, and ingesting it). [25] [26]

Search Edit

Predators have a choice of search modes ranging from sit-and-wait to active or widely foraging. [30] [25] [31] [32] The sit-and-wait method is most suitable if the prey are dense and mobile, and the predator has low energy requirements. [30] Wide foraging expends more energy, and is used when prey is sedentary or sparsely distributed. [28] [30] There is a continuum of search modes with intervals between periods of movement ranging from seconds to months. Sharks, sunfish, Insectivorous birds and shrews are almost always moving while web-building spiders, aquatic invertebrates, praying mantises and kestrels rarely move. In between, plovers and other shorebirds, freshwater fish including crappies, and the larvae of coccinellid beetles (ladybirds), alternate between actively searching and scanning the environment. [30]

Prey distributions are often clumped, and predators respond by looking for patches where prey is dense and then searching within patches. [25] Where food is found in patches, such as rare shoals of fish in a nearly empty ocean, the search stage requires the predator to travel for a substantial time, and to expend a significant amount of energy, to locate each food patch. [33] For example, the black-browed albatross regularly makes foraging flights to a range of around 700 kilometres (430 miles), up to a maximum foraging range of 3,000 kilometres (1,860 miles) for breeding birds gathering food for their young. [a] [34] With static prey, some predators can learn suitable patch locations and return to them at intervals to feed. [33] The optimal foraging strategy for search has been modelled using the marginal value theorem. [35]

Search patterns often appear random. One such is the Lévy walk, that tends to involve clusters of short steps with occasional long steps. It is a good fit to the behaviour of a wide variety of organisms including bacteria, honeybees, sharks and human hunter-gatherers. [36] [37]

Assessment Edit

Having found prey, a predator must decide whether to pursue it or keep searching. The decision depends on the costs and benefits involved. A bird foraging for insects spends a lot of time searching but capturing and eating them is quick and easy, so the efficient strategy for the bird is to eat every palatable insect it finds. By contrast, a predator such as a lion or falcon finds its prey easily but capturing it requires a lot of effort. In that case, the predator is more selective. [28]

One of the factors to consider is size. Prey that is too small may not be worth the trouble for the amount of energy it provides. Too large, and it may be too difficult to capture. For example, a mantid captures prey with its forelegs and they are optimized for grabbing prey of a certain size. Mantids are reluctant to attack prey that is far from that size. There is a positive correlation between the size of a predator and its prey. [28]

A predator may also assess a patch and decide whether to spend time searching for prey in it. [25] This may involve some knowledge of the preferences of the prey for example, ladybirds can choose a patch of vegetation suitable for their aphid prey. [38]

Capture Edit

To capture prey, predators have a spectrum of pursuit modes that range from overt chase (pursuit predation) to a sudden strike on nearby prey (ambush predation). [25] [39] [12] Another strategy in between ambush and pursuit is ballistic interception, where a predator observes and predicts a prey's motion and then launches its attack accordingly. [40]

Ambush Edit

Ambush or sit-and-wait predators are carnivorous animals that capture prey by stealth or surprise. In animals, ambush predation is characterized by the predator's scanning the environment from a concealed position until a prey is spotted, and then rapidly executing a fixed surprise attack. [41] [40] Vertebrate ambush predators include frogs, fish such as the angel shark, the northern pike and the eastern frogfish. [40] [42] [43] [44] Among the many invertebrate ambush predators are trapdoor spiders and Australian Crab spiders on land and mantis shrimps in the sea. [41] [45] [46] Ambush predators often construct a burrow in which to hide, improving concealment at the cost of reducing their field of vision. Some ambush predators also use lures to attract prey within striking range. [40] The capturing movement has to be rapid to trap the prey, given that the attack is not modifiable once launched. [40]

Ballistic interception Edit

Ballistic interception is the strategy where a predator observes the movement of a prey, predicts its motion, works out an interception path, and then attacks the prey on that path. This differs from ambush predation in that the predator adjusts its attack according to how the prey is moving. [40] Ballistic interception involves a brief period for planning, giving the prey an opportunity to escape. Some frogs wait until snakes have begun their strike before jumping, reducing the time available to the snake to recalibrate its attack, and maximising the angular adjustment that the snake would need to make to intercept the frog in real time. [40] Ballistic predators include insects such as dragonflies, and vertebrates such as archerfish (attacking with a jet of water), chameleons (attacking with their tongues), and some colubrid snakes. [40]

Pursuit Edit

In pursuit predation, predators chase fleeing prey. If the prey flees in a straight line, capture depends only on the predator's being faster than the prey. [40] If the prey manoeuvres by turning as it flees, the predator must react in real time to calculate and follow a new intercept path, such as by parallel navigation, as it closes on the prey. [40] Many pursuit predators use camouflage to approach the prey as close as possible unobserved (stalking) before starting the pursuit. [40] Pursuit predators include terrestrial mammals such as humans, African wild dogs, spotted hyenas and wolves marine predators such as dolphins, orcas and many predatory fishes, such as tuna [47] [48] predatory birds (raptors) such as falcons and insects such as dragonflies. [49]

An extreme form of pursuit is endurance or persistence hunting, in which the predator tires out the prey by following it over a long distance, sometimes for hours at a time. The method is used by human hunter-gatherers and by canids such as African wild dogs and domestic hounds. The African wild dog is an extreme persistence predator, tiring out individual prey by following them for many miles at relatively low speed. [50]

A specialised form of pursuit predation is the lunge feeding of baleen whales. These very large marine predators feed on plankton, especially krill, diving and actively swimming into concentrations of plankton, and then taking a huge gulp of water and filtering it through their feathery baleen plates. [51] [52]

Pursuit predators may be social, like the lion and wolf that hunt in groups, or solitary. [2]

Handling Edit

Once the predator has captured the prey, it has to handle it: very carefully if the prey is dangerous to eat, such as if it possesses sharp or poisonous spines, as in many prey fish. Some catfish such as the Ictaluridae have spines on the back (dorsal) and belly (pectoral) which lock in the erect position as the catfish thrashes about when captured, these could pierce the predator's mouth, possibly fatally. Some fish-eating birds like the osprey avoid the danger of spines by tearing up their prey before eating it. [53]

Solitary versus social predation Edit

In social predation, a group of predators cooperates to kill prey. This makes it possible to kill creatures larger than those they could overpower singly for example, hyenas, and wolves collaborate to catch and kill herbivores as large as buffalo, and lions even hunt elephants. [54] [55] [56] It can also make prey more readily available through strategies like flushing of prey and herding it into a smaller area. For example, when mixed flocks of birds forage, the birds in front flush out insects that are caught by the birds behind. Spinner dolphins form a circle around a school of fish and move inwards, concentrating the fish by a factor of 200. [57] By hunting socially chimpanzees can catch colobus monkeys that would readily escape an individual hunter, while cooperating Harris hawks can trap rabbits. [54] [58]

Predators of different species sometimes cooperate to catch prey. In coral reefs, when fish such as the grouper and coral trout spot prey that is inaccessible to them, they signal to giant moray eels, Napoleon wrasses or octopuses. These predators are able to access small crevices and flush out the prey. [59] [60] Killer whales have been known to help whalers hunt baleen whales. [61]

Social hunting allows predators to tackle a wider range of prey, but at the risk of competition for the captured food. Solitary predators have more chance of eating what they catch, at the price of increased expenditure of energy to catch it, and increased risk that the prey will escape. [62] [63] Ambush predators are often solitary to reduce the risk of becoming prey themselves. [64] Of 245 terrestrial carnivores, 177 are solitary and 35 of the 37 wild cats are solitary, [65] including the cougar and cheetah. [62] [2] However, the solitary cougar does allow other cougars to share in a kill, [66] and the coyote can be either solitary or social. [67] Other solitary predators include the northern pike, [68] wolf spiders and all the thousands of species of solitary wasps among arthropods, [69] [70] and many microorganisms and zooplankton. [22] [71]

Physical adaptations Edit

Under the pressure of natural selection, predators have evolved a variety of physical adaptations for detecting, catching, killing, and digesting prey. These include speed, agility, stealth, sharp senses, claws, teeth, filters, and suitable digestive systems. [72]

For detecting prey, predators have well-developed vision, smell, or hearing. [12] Predators as diverse as owls and jumping spiders have forward-facing eyes, providing accurate binocular vision over a relatively narrow field of view, whereas prey animals often have less acute all-round vision. Animals such as foxes can smell their prey even when it is concealed under 2 feet (60 cm) of snow or earth. Many predators have acute hearing, and some such as echolocating bats hunt exclusively by active or passive use of sound. [73]

Predators including big cats, birds of prey, and ants share powerful jaws, sharp teeth, or claws which they use to seize and kill their prey. Some predators such as snakes and fish-eating birds like herons and cormorants swallow their prey whole some snakes can unhinge their jaws to allow them to swallow large prey, while fish-eating birds have long spear-like beaks that they use to stab and grip fast-moving and slippery prey. [73] Fish and other predators have developed the ability to crush or open the armoured shells of molluscs. [74]

Many predators are powerfully built and can catch and kill animals larger than themselves this applies as much to small predators such as ants and shrews as to big and visibly muscular carnivores like the cougar and lion. [73] [2] [75]

Skull of brown bear has large pointed canines for killing prey, and self-sharpening carnassial teeth at rear for cutting flesh with a scissor-like action

Crab spider, an ambush predator with forward-facing eyes, catching another predator, a field digger wasp

Red-tailed hawk uses sharp hooked claws and beak to kill and tear up its prey

Specialist: a great blue heron with a speared fish

Indian python unhinges its jaw to swallow large prey like this chital

Diet and behaviour Edit

Predators are often highly specialized in their diet and hunting behaviour for example, the Eurasian lynx only hunts small ungulates. [76] Others such as leopards are more opportunistic generalists, preying on at least 100 species. [77] [78] The specialists may be highly adapted to capturing their preferred prey, whereas generalists may be better able to switch to other prey when a preferred target is scarce. When prey have a clumped (uneven) distribution, the optimal strategy for the predator is predicted to be more specialized as the prey are more conspicuous and can be found more quickly [79] this appears to be correct for predators of immobile prey, but is doubtful with mobile prey. [80]

In size-selective predation, predators select prey of a certain size. [81] Large prey may prove troublesome for a predator, while small prey might prove hard to find and in any case provide less of a reward. This has led to a correlation between the size of predators and their prey. Size may also act as a refuge for large prey. For example, adult elephants are relatively safe from predation by lions, but juveniles are vulnerable. [82]

Camouflage and mimicry Edit

Members of the cat family such as the snow leopard (treeless highlands), tiger (grassy plains, reed swamps), ocelot (forest), fishing cat (waterside thickets), and lion (open plains) are camouflaged with coloration and disruptive patterns suiting their habitats. [83]

In aggressive mimicry, certain predators, including insects and fishes, make use of coloration and behaviour to attract prey. Female Photuris fireflies, for example, copy the light signals of other species, thereby attracting male fireflies, which they capture and eat. [84] Flower mantises are ambush predators camouflaged as flowers, such as orchids, they attract prey and seize it when it is close enough. [85] Frogfishes are extremely well camouflaged, and actively lure their prey to approach using an esca, a bait on the end of a rod-like appendage on the head, which they wave gently to mimic a small animal, gulping the prey in an extremely rapid movement when it is within range. [86]

Venom Edit

Many smaller predators such as the box jellyfish use venom to subdue their prey, [87] and venom can also aid in digestion (as is the case for rattlesnakes and some spiders). [88] [89] The marbled sea snake that has adapted to egg predation has atrophied venom glands, and the gene for its three finger toxin contains a mutation (the deletion of two nucleotides) that inactives it. These changes are explained by the fact that its prey does not need to be subdued. [90]

Electric fields Edit

Several groups of predatory fish have the ability to detect, track, and sometimes, as in the electric ray, to incapacitate their prey by generating electric fields using electric organs. [91] [92] [93] The electric organ is derived from modified nerve or muscle tissue. [94]

Physiology Edit

Physiological adaptations to predation include the ability of predatory bacteria to digest the complex peptidoglycan polymer from the cell walls of the bacteria that they prey upon. [23] Carnivorous vertebrates of all five major classes (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) have lower relative rates of sugar to amino acid transport than either herbivores or omnivores, presumably because they acquire plenty of amino acids from the animal proteins in their diet. [95]

To counter predation, prey have a great variety of defences. They can try to avoid detection. They can detect predators and warn others of their presence. If detected, they can try to avoid being the target of an attack, for example, by signalling that a chase would be unprofitable or by forming groups. If they become a target, they can try to fend off the attack with defences such as armour, quills, unpalatability or mobbing and they can escape an attack in progress by startling the predator, shedding body parts such as tails, or simply fleeing. [96] [97] [12] [98]

Avoiding detection Edit

Prey can avoid detection by predators with morphological traits and coloration that make them hard to detect. They can also adopt behaviour that avoids predators by, for example, avoiding the times and places where predators forage. [99]

Misdirection Edit

Prey animals make use of a variety of mechanisms including camouflage and mimicry to misdirect the visual sensory mechanisms of predators, enabling the prey to remain unrecognized for long enough to give it an opportunity to escape. Camouflage delays recognition through coloration, shape, and pattern. [73] [100] Among the many mechanisms of camouflage are countershading [83] and disruptive coloration. [101] The resemblance can be to the biotic or non-living environment, such as a mantis resembling dead leaves, or to other organisms. In mimicry, an organism has a similar appearance to another species, as in drone flies (Eristalis), which resembles a bee, yet has no sting. [102]

Behavioural mechanisms Edit

Animals avoid predators with behavioural mechanisms such as changing their habitats (particularly when raising young), reducing their activity, foraging less and forgoing reproduction when they sense that predators are about. [103]

Eggs and nestlings are particularly vulnerable to predation, so birds take measures to protect their nests. [99] Where birds locate their nests can have a large effect on the frequency of predation. It is lowest for those such as woodpeckers that excavate their own nests and progressively higher for those on the ground, in canopies and in shrubs. [104] To compensate, shrub nesters must have more broods and shorter nesting times. Birds also choose appropriate habitat (e.g., thick foliage or islands) and avoid forest edges and small habitats. Similarly, some mammals raise their young in dens. [103]

By forming groups, prey can often reduce the frequency of encounters with predators because the visibility of a group does not rise in proportion to its size. However, there are exceptions: for example, human fishermen can only detect large shoals of fish with sonar. [105]

Detecting predators Edit

Recognition Edit

Prey species use sight, sound and odor to detect predators, and they can be quite discriminating. For example, Belding's ground squirrel can distinguish several aerial and ground predators from each other and from harmless species. Prey also distinguish between the calls of predators and non-predators. Some species can even distinguish between dangerous and harmless predators of the same species. In the northeastern Pacific Ocean, transient killer whales prey on seals, but the local killer whales only eat fish. Seals rapidly exit the water if they hear calls between transients. Prey are also more vigilant if they smell predators. [106]

The abilities of prey to detect predators do have limits. Belding's ground squirrel cannot distinguish between harriers flying at different heights, although only the low-flying birds are a threat. [106] Wading birds sometimes take flight when there does not appear to be any predator present. Although such false alarms waste energy and lose feeding time, it can be fatal to make the opposite mistake of taking a predator for a harmless animal. [107]

Vigilance Edit

Prey must remain vigilant, scanning their surroundings for predators. This makes it more difficult to feed and sleep. Groups can provide more eyes, making detection of a predator more likely and reducing the level of vigilance needed by individuals. [108] Many species, such as Eurasian jays, give alarm calls warning of the presence of a predator these give other prey of the same or different species an opportunity to escape, and signal to the predator that it has been detected. [109] [110]

Avoiding an attack Edit

Signalling unprofitability Edit

If predator and prey have spotted each other, the prey can signal to the predator to decrease the likelihood of an attack. These honest signals may benefit both the prey and predator, because they save the effort of a fruitless chase. [111] Signals that appear to deter attacks include stotting, for example by Thomson's gazelle [112] [111] push-up displays by lizards [111] and good singing by skylarks after a pursuit begins. [111] Simply indicating that the predator has been spotted, as a hare does by standing on its hind legs and facing the predator, may sometimes be sufficient. [111]

Many prey animals are aposematically coloured or patterned as a warning to predators that they are distasteful or able to defend themselves. [73] [113] [114] Such distastefulness or toxicity is brought about by chemical defences, found in a wide range of prey, especially insects, but the skunk is a dramatic mammalian example. [115]

Forming groups Edit

By forming groups, prey can reduce attacks by predators. There are several mechanisms that produce this effect. One is dilution, where, in the simplest scenario, if a given predator attacks a group of prey, the chances of a given individual being the target is reduced in proportion to the size of the group. However, it is difficult to separate this effect from other group-related benefits such as increased vigilance and reduced encounter rate. [116] [117] Other advantages include confusing predators such as with motion dazzle, making it more difficult to single out a target. [118] [119]

Fending off an attack Edit

Chemical defences include toxins, such as bitter compounds in leaves absorbed by leaf-eating insects, are used to dissuade potential predators. [120] Mechanical defences include sharp spines, hard shells and tough leathery skin or exoskeletons, all making prey harder to kill. [121]

Some species mob predators cooperatively, reducing the likelihood of attack. [122]

Escaping an attack Edit

When a predator is approaching an individual and attack seems imminent, the prey still has several options. One is to flee, whether by running, jumping, climbing, burrowing or swimming. [123] The prey can gain some time by startling the predator. Many butterflies and moths have eyespots, wing markings that resemble eyes. [124] When a predator disturbs the insect, it reveals its hind wings in a deimatic or bluffing display, startling the predator and giving the insect time to escape. [125] [126] Some other strategies include playing dead and uttering a distress call. [123]

Predators and prey are natural enemies, and many of their adaptations seem designed to counter each other. For example, bats have sophisticated echolocation systems to detect insects and other prey, and insects have developed a variety of defences including the ability to hear the echolocation calls. [127] [128] Many pursuit predators that run on land, such as wolves, have evolved long limbs in response to the increased speed of their prey. [129] Their adaptations have been characterized as an evolutionary arms race, an example of the coevolution of two species. [130] In a gene centered view of evolution, the genes of predator and prey can be thought of as competing for the prey's body. [130] However, the "life-dinner" principle of Dawkins and Krebs predicts that this arms race is asymmetric: if a predator fails to catch its prey, it loses its dinner, while if it succeeds, the prey loses its life. [130]

The metaphor of an arms race implies ever-escalating advances in attack and defence. However, these adaptations come with a cost for instance, longer legs have an increased risk of breaking, [131] while the specialized tongue of the chameleon, with its ability to act like a projectile, is useless for lapping water, so the chameleon must drink dew off vegetation. [132]

The "life-dinner" principle has been criticized on multiple grounds. The extent of the asymmetry in natural selection depends in part on the heritability of the adaptive traits. [132] Also, if a predator loses enough dinners, it too will lose its life. [131] [132] On the other hand, the fitness cost of a given lost dinner is unpredictable, as the predator may quickly find better prey. In addition, most predators are generalists, which reduces the impact of a given prey adaption on a predator. Since specialization is caused by predator-prey coevolution, the rarity of specialists may imply that predator-prey arms races are rare. [132]

It is difficult to determine whether given adaptations are truly the result of coevolution, where a prey adaptation gives rise to a predator adaptation that is countered by further adaptation in the prey. An alternative explanation is escalation, where predators are adapting to competitors, their own predators or dangerous prey. [133] Apparent adaptations to predation may also have arisen for other reasons and then been co-opted for attack or defence. In some of the insects preyed on by bats, hearing evolved before bats appeared and was used to hear signals used for territorial defence and mating. [134] Their hearing evolved in response to bat predation, but the only clear example of reciprocal adaptation in bats is stealth echolocation. [135]

A more symmetric arms race may occur when the prey are dangerous, having spines, quills, toxins or venom that can harm the predator. The predator can respond with avoidance, which in turn drives the evolution of mimicry. Avoidance is not necessarily an evolutionary response as it is generally learned from bad experiences with prey. However, when the prey is capable of killing the predator (as can a coral snake with its venom), there is no opportunity for learning and avoidance must be inherited. Predators can also respond to dangerous prey with counter-adaptations. In western North America, the common garter snake has developed a resistance to the toxin in the skin of the rough-skinned newt. [132]

Predators affect their ecosystems not only directly by eating their own prey, but by indirect means such as reducing predation by other species, or altering the foraging behaviour of a herbivore, as with the biodiversity effect of wolves on riverside vegetation or sea otters on kelp forests. This may explain population dynamics effects such as the cycles observed in lynx and snowshoe hares. [136] [137] [138]

Trophic level Edit

One way of classifying predators is by trophic level. Carnivores that feed on herbivores are secondary consumers their predators are tertiary consumers, and so forth. [139] At the top of this food chain are apex predators such as lions. [140] Many predators however eat from multiple levels of the food chain a carnivore may eat both secondary and tertiary consumers. [141] This means that many predators must contend with intraguild predation, where other predators kill and eat them. For example, coyotes compete with and sometimes kill gray foxes and bobcats. [142]

Biodiversity maintained by apex predation Edit

Predators may increase the biodiversity of communities by preventing a single species from becoming dominant. Such predators are known as keystone species and may have a profound influence on the balance of organisms in a particular ecosystem. [143] Introduction or removal of this predator, or changes in its population density, can have drastic cascading effects on the equilibrium of many other populations in the ecosystem. For example, grazers of a grassland may prevent a single dominant species from taking over. [144]

The elimination of wolves from Yellowstone National Park had profound impacts on the trophic pyramid. In that area, wolves are both keystone species and apex predators. Without predation, herbivores began to over-graze many woody browse species, affecting the area's plant populations. In addition, wolves often kept animals from grazing near streams, protecting the beavers' food sources. The removal of wolves had a direct effect on the beaver population, as their habitat became territory for grazing. Increased browsing on willows and conifers along Blacktail Creek due to a lack of predation caused channel incision because the reduced beaver population was no longer able to slow the water down and keep the soil in place. The predators were thus demonstrated to be of vital importance in the ecosystem. [145]

Population dynamics Edit

In the absence of predators, the population of a species can grow exponentially until it approaches the carrying capacity of the environment. [146] Predators limit the growth of prey both by consuming them and by changing their behavior. [147] Increases or decreases in the prey population can also lead to increases or decreases in the number of predators, for example, through an increase in the number of young they bear.

Cyclical fluctuations have been seen in populations of predator and prey, often with offsets between the predator and prey cycles. A well-known example is that of the snowshoe hare and lynx. Over a broad span of boreal forests in Alaska and Canada, the hare populations fluctuate in near synchrony with a 10-year period, and the lynx populations fluctuate in response. This was first seen in historical records of animals caught by fur hunters for the Hudson Bay Company over more than a century. [148] [138] [149] [150]

A simple model of a system with one species each of predator and prey, the Lotka–Volterra equations, predicts population cycles. [151] However, attempts to reproduce the predictions of this model in the laboratory have often failed for example, when the protozoan Didinium nasutum is added to a culture containing its prey, Paramecium caudatum, the latter is often driven to extinction. [152]

The Lotka-Volterra equations rely on several simplifying assumptions, and they are structurally unstable, meaning that any change in the equations can stabilize or destabilize the dynamics. [153] [154] For example, one assumption is that predators have a linear functional response to prey: the rate of kills increases in proportion to the rate of encounters. If this rate is limited by time spent handling each catch, then prey populations can reach densities above which predators cannot control them. [152] Another assumption is that all prey individuals are identical. In reality, predators tend to select young, weak, and ill individuals, leaving prey populations able to regrow. [155]

Many factors can stabilize predator and prey populations. [156] One example is the presence of multiple predators, particularly generalists that are attracted to a given prey species if it is abundant and look elsewhere if it is not. [157] As a result, population cycles tend to be found in northern temperate and subarctic ecosystems because the food webs are simpler. [158] The snowshoe hare-lynx system is subarctic, but even this involves other predators, including coyotes, goshawks and great horned owls, and the cycle is reinforced by variations in the food available to the hares. [159]

A range of mathematical models have been developed by relaxing the assumptions made in the Lotka-Volterra model these variously allow animals to have geographic distributions, or to migrate to have differences between individuals, such as sexes and an age structure, so that only some individuals reproduce to live in a varying environment, such as with changing seasons [160] [161] and analysing the interactions of more than just two species at once. Such models predict widely differing and often chaotic predator-prey population dynamics. [160] [162] The presence of refuge areas, where prey are safe from predators, may enable prey to maintain larger populations but may also destabilize the dynamics. [163] [164] [165] [166]

Predation dates from before the rise of commonly recognized carnivores by hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of years. Predation has evolved repeatedly in different groups of organisms. [5] [167] The rise of eukaryotic cells at around 2.7 Gya, the rise of multicellular organisms at about 2 Gya, and the rise of mobile predators (around 600 Mya - 2 Gya, probably around 1 Gya) have all been attributed to early predatory behavior, and many very early remains show evidence of boreholes or other markings attributed to small predator species. [5] It likely triggered major evolutionary transitions including the arrival of cells, eukaryotes, sexual reproduction, multicellularity, increased size, mobility (including insect flight [168] ) and armoured shells and exoskeletons. [5]

The earliest predators were microbial organisms, which engulfed or grazed on others. Because the fossil record is poor, these first predators could date back anywhere between 1 and over 2.7 Gya (billion years ago). [5] Predation visibly became important shortly before the Cambrian period—around 550 million years ago —as evidenced by the almost simultaneous development of calcification in animals and algae, [169] and predation-avoiding burrowing. However, predators had been grazing on micro-organisms since at least 1,000 million years ago , [5] [170] [171] with evidence of selective (rather than random) predation from a similar time. [172]

The fossil record demonstrates a long history of interactions between predators and their prey from the Cambrian period onwards, showing for example that some predators drilled through the shells of bivalve and gastropod molluscs, while others ate these organisms by breaking their shells. [173] Among the Cambrian predators were invertebrates like the anomalocaridids with appendages suitable for grabbing prey, large compound eyes and jaws made of a hard material like that in the exoskeleton of an insect. [174] Some of the first fish to have jaws were the armoured and mainly predatory placoderms of the Silurian to Devonian periods, one of which, the 6 m (20 ft) Dunkleosteus, is considered the world's first vertebrate "superpredator", preying upon other predators. [175] [176] Insects developed the ability to fly in the Early Carboniferous or Late Devonian, enabling them among other things to escape from predators. [168] Among the largest predators that have ever lived were the theropod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus from the Cretaceous period. They preyed upon herbivorous dinosaurs such as hadrosaurs, ceratopsians and ankylosaurs. [177]

The Cambrian substrate revolution saw life on the sea floor change from minimal burrowing (left) to a diverse burrowing fauna (right), probably to avoid new Cambrian predators.

Mouth of the anomalocaridid Laggania cambria, a Cambrian invertebrate, probably an apex predator

Dunkleosteus, a Devonian placoderm, perhaps the world's first vertebrate superpredator, reconstruction

Meganeura monyi, a predatory Carboniferous insect related to dragonflies, could fly to escape terrestrial predators. Its large size, with a wingspan of 65 cm (30 in), may reflect the lack of vertebrate aerial predators at that time.

Practical uses Edit

Humans, as omnivores, are to some extent predatory, [178] using weapons and tools to fish, [179] hunt and trap animals. [180] They also use other predatory species such as dogs, cormorants, [181] and falcons to catch prey for food or for sport. [182] Two mid-sized predators, dogs and cats, are the animals most often kept as pets in western societies. [183] [184] Human hunters, including the San of southern Africa, use persistence hunting, a form of pursuit predation where the pursuer may be slower than prey such as a kudu antelope over short distances, but follows it in the midday heat until it is exhausted, a pursuit that can take up to five hours. [185] [186]

In biological pest control, predators (and parasitoids) from a pest's natural range are introduced to control populations, at the risk of causing unforeseen problems. Natural predators, provided they do no harm to non-pest species, are an environmentally friendly and sustainable way of reducing damage to crops and an alternative to the use of chemical agents such as pesticides. [187]

Symbolic uses Edit

In film, the idea of the predator as a dangerous if humanoid enemy is used in the 1987 science fiction horror action film Predator and its three sequels. [188] [189] A terrifying predator, a gigantic man-eating great white shark, is central, too, to Steven Spielberg's 1974 thriller Jaws. [190]

Among poetry on the theme of predation, a predator's consciousness might be explored, such as in Ted Hughes's Pike. [191] The phrase "Nature, red in tooth and claw" from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's 1849 poem "In Memoriam A.H.H." has been interpreted as referring to the struggle between predators and prey. [192]

In mythology and folk fable, predators such as the fox and wolf have mixed reputations. [193] The fox was a symbol of fertility in ancient Greece, but a weather demon in northern Europe, and a creature of the devil in early Christianity the fox is presented as sly, greedy, and cunning in fables from Aesop onwards. [193] The big bad wolf is known to children in tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, but is a demonic figure in the Icelandic Edda sagas, where the wolf Fenrir appears in the apocalyptic ending of the world. [193] In the Middle Ages, belief spread in werewolves, men transformed into wolves. [193] In ancient Rome, and in ancient Egypt, the wolf was worshipped, the she-wolf appearing in the founding myth of Rome, suckling Romulus and Remus. [193] More recently, in Rudyard Kipling's 1894 The Jungle Book, Mowgli is raised by the wolf pack. [193] Attitudes to large predators in North America, such as wolf, grizzly bear and cougar, have shifted from hostility or ambivalence, accompanied by active persecution, towards positive and protective in the second half of the 20th century. [194]

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(1) Name some animals in your house which have the same kind of food habit.

Ans. Some animals in our house are like goat, cow, dog, cat etc.

I know that cow and goat have the same kind of food habit, – and dog, cat have the quite same kind of food habit.

On the basis of animal’s food habit they are classified as –

(i) Harbivores (eating plant, shrubs, grass etc.)

(ii) Carnivores (eating flesh or meat)

(iii) Omnivores (eating both flesh & meat).

(2) Observe your surroundings or go to a nearby field and write about the following :

(a) How does the cow eat grass?

(b) What parts are used while doing so?

(c) In what way can you justify it as a herbivore?

Ans. (a) When a cow first takes a bite of grass, it is chewed food very quickly and swallowed and store it in a part of their stomach. After sometimes they take take food material back from the stomach to the mouth and chewed it again. It is called ‘rumination’. Rumination enables cows to chew grass more completely, which improves digestion.

(b) Mouthparts like Jaws, teeth, tongue etc are used.

(c) As cow only depends upon plants like green/ dry grass, leaves and branches, so I think it is a herbivore.

(3) Compare the legs and nails of a dog and hen and say why they are different.

Ans. Dog has 4 legs and it is longer. But hen has 2 legs and also some different in it.

The nails of the dog is having hard and its use to cut some things. But hen has thinner nails and its use to hold object.

(4) Go to a nearby pond where cranes are usually seen. Observe how they catch fish. Write about the process of catching fish. (Take care of yourself when you are near water places.)

Ans. Cranes used to catch the fishes with the help of their beak.

The cranes usually have been in lakes, ponds. The crane at first observe the motion of a fish, later it catches with its thin, long and thick beak.

(5) Name some animals which use tongue as a tool for taking in food.

Ans. Dogs, Cats, Cows, buffalos, frogs, lizards, lion, tiger, wolf, giraffe etc are some animals that use tongue as a tool for taking in food.

(6) The butterfly uses ….. to suck honey from flowers.

(7) Do the following and record your observations :

Collect one or two earthworms and put them in a bottle containing wet soil. Close it with a the lid which has holes. Observe how earthworms get their food.

Ans. Earthworm prefers moist environment. Because earthworms breathe through their skin, and it also held moist. Dry skin prevents the process of diffusion, efficiently stopping the oxygen in the earthworms. Thats why in rainy season worms are so frequently found on floor.

So finally i observed that earthworms will take moisture in the soil as food.

(8) Which animals in the forest depend only on plants or only on animals for food?

Ans. Omnivores are the animals in the forest that depend only plants or animals for food.

There are certain animals in the forest that are depends on only plants. For example – deer, donkey.

Then there are other animals that are totally depends on other animals for their food. Such animals for example : Tigers, Lions, Wolf, etc.

(9) Fill up the following table

Body part used Examples to collect food

Dog, cat, cow, bufallow, frogs, lizards, Lion, tiger.

Leeches, Snails, earthworms

(10) Why do most carnivores live in forests? Give reasons

Ans. Carnivores animals only depend on other animals for their food. Carnivores get their food easily in the forest because there are so many small animals living in forest and for lion, tiger are strong as compare to deer, rabbits etc. So it an ideal habitat for carnivores.

Here is also a another reason – the carnivores helps in the transferring the energy in a food chain from one level to the other one.

(11) Make your own food chain and display it in your class room.

(13) Identify which of the following statements are wrong and give reasons.

(a) That which lives in water cannot eat animals.

Ans. Wrong statement, because crocodiles who live in water eats other animals.

Explain:- Crocodiles are reptiles which are not picky when it comes to food. They eat anything like reptiles, fishes, animals, birds, and even humans and also eat other crocodiles.

(b) Elephants and deer are herbivores living in the forest.

Ans. This statement is right.

(c) Birds’ beaks are designed to suit their food habits.

Ans. It is also right.

(d) Sharp claws are useful for hunting.

Ans. It is also a right statement.

(e) Most of the food chains end with herbivorous animals.

Ans. This statement is wrong, because normal food chain generally ends at top carnivores like tiger, lion etc. But a food chain can never end with herbivores.

(14) If you want to understand more about food chain what questions would you like to ask?

Ans. (i) Why is the food chain necessary?

(ii) Why is the food chain important?

(iii) How is the food chain made?

(iv) What is the main functions of food chain?

(15) Write a play with dialogues between a parrot and a lion about their food habits and organs they use to get food. Act it with your friends. Send it to school / district childrens magzine.

Ans. Conversation between Lion and Parrot:

Parrot: I am a parrot and an omnivorous animal. I can eat both meat and plants. Can you?

Lion: No, I qam totally a carnivorous animal. I only eat meat and cannot eat plants.

Parrot: My favorite foods are seeds, fruits, nuts and leaves.

Parrot : When i see delicious ripe food on trees, i use my claws and my beaks and jaws to eat them. I also use my jaws to open the nuts and seeds and beaks also help to pick any worms from the grounds.

Lion : I am very strong and will prey and kill the animal to eat its meat. I also use my sharp, powerful claws to tear their flesh and eat with my strong jaws and teeth.

(16) Identify the given animal :

What does it eat?

.Ans. It is Anteater. Anteater do not have teeth so it use its long tongue to catch ants and termites. It also eats soft fruits and birds eggs, and insects.