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Solitary predator: a polar bear feeds on a bearded seal
it has killed.

Predation is a

seed predators and destructive frugivores
are predators.

Predators may actively search for or pursue prey or wait for it, often concealed. When prey is detected, the predator assesses whether to attack it. This may involve

, sometimes after stalking the prey. If the attack is successful, the predator kills the prey, removes any inedible parts like the shell or spines, and eats it.

Predators are adapted and often highly specialized for hunting, with acute senses such as

smell. Many predatory animals, both vertebrate and invertebrate, have sharp claws or jaws to grip, kill, and cut up their prey. Other adaptations include stealth and aggressive mimicry
that improve hunting efficiency.

Predation has a powerful

alarm calls and other signals, camouflage, mimicry of well-defended species, and defensive spines and chemicals. Sometimes predator and prey find themselves in an evolutionary arms race, a cycle of adaptations and counter-adaptations. Predation has been a major driver of evolution since at least the Cambrian


Spider wasps paralyse and eventually kill their hosts, but are considered parasitoids
, not predators.

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

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]

social wasps (yellowjackets) are both hunters and scavengers of other insects.[11]

Taxonomic range

sundew engulfing an insect

While examples of predators among mammals and birds are well known,

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]

Paramecium, a predatory ciliate, feeding on bacteria

Seed predation is restricted to mammals, birds, and insects but is found in almost all terrestrial ecosystems.

colubrid snakes and generalists such as foxes and badgers that opportunistically take eggs when they find them.[17][18][19]

Some plants, like 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


A basic foraging cycle for a predator, with some variations indicated[25]

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]


Predators have a choice of search modes ranging from sit-and-wait to active or widely foraging.

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]


Seven-spot ladybirds select plants of good quality for their aphid

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.

ladybirds can choose a patch of vegetation suitable for their aphid prey.[38]


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]


trapdoor spider
waiting in its burrow to ambush its prey

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.

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

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]


Dragonflies, like this common clubtail with captured prey, are invertebrate pursuit predators

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.

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]


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

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,

Harris hawks can trap rabbits.[54][58]

social predators, cooperate to hunt and kill bison