"Lions, tigers, bears, oh my!" Everyone is used to hearing about the predators of the world, like, for example: cougars (either the promiscuous, tall, blonde, or actual mountain lions), and the sort of felines who won't just tear at your dignity, but also your jugular. And it's not just ferocious felines and their sexually over-experienced, female, human counterparts. There are many more predators than that: great white sharks, great blue herons, great-horned owls, greater roadrunners... not to mention the list of fantastic predators out there.
But there are some super-predators; some apex predators that sit at the top of their habitat, reigning as kings, without most people ever knowing them to be such superior predators to the general mass of creatures out there. There are some tiny, unsuspecting, and fairly common animals running about, all around us, who are in fact super in their occupation as a predator. Would one ever believe that the smallmouth bass, the raccoon, the dragonfly, and even the domestic cat (that little sweetheart who completely dominates any household) are all super predators?
There is an incredible and specific list of animals who reign as super or apex predators, and while some are given the title simply by cleverly living in an area with no predators above them, these creatures are no less fascinating, or important to the continuance of the biomes in which they thrive.
15 The Bonobo Monkey
The bonobo monkeys are the newest addition to the Great Apes (gorillas, orangutans, chimps, humans). Found in the South of the Congo, the bonobos are separated from the chimps by more than just geography. Chimps are known more for battling it out to gain status and be a significant part of their group, but bonobos are assuredly more interested in peace and love. Run by the females in the group, bonobo families use sex to settle disputes, and any sort of infighting... as well as any sort of outfighting, come to that. No matter the combination, young, old, male, or female, all can join in the festivities, and none are left out. This works the same for food collection, and while bonobos are omnivorous, and do therefore hunt for meat, the share is equal. Though there has been done little field research on these apes, due to strife in the Congo, and their timidity around humans, it is clear that, along with chimps, bonobos are the humans' closest extant relative. With likely only 30-50,000 in existence, it's surprising that a super predator, so heavily based on sex, should have such a small population.
14 Brown Tree Snake
Of all of the incredibly predatory and dangerous snakes in the world (cobra, anaconda, python, viper, rattler, etc), one might not consider the brown tree snake to be worthy of the status of super-predator. However, this relatively small (though fairly long— growing 1-3m/3-10ft) snake is dangerous in many ways— though not specifically to humans, at least in terms of its bite. Native to New Guinea and Australia (where everything tries to kill everything), the brown tree snake stowed away and found itself on several Western Pacific islands, including Saipan and Guam. An invasive species and very interested in anything from birds, to amphibians, to small mammals, the snake has eliminated both endemic bird species and two of three native bat species on Guam. Able to eat up to seventy percent of its own body mass per day, it's no wonder that these hungry little snakes have destroyed so much of the ecosystems they have invaded. To humans they hold little danger as they inject venom with their back teeth and are unlikely to make contact with them when biting a human. In addition, the venom is rather weak to most small mammals, and would do little to nothing to a human. The only fear from people is that the snake will find its way to Hawaii and devastate creatures there that pollinate, and thus kill species of both plant and animal.
13 The Common Raven
This feathery creature, immortalized by Edgar Allan Poe, is one of the smartest predators on this list, and perhaps one of the most versatile with regards to geography. Thinner than a typical crow, but with a big butcher knife of a beak, the raven thrives in almost every part of North America (deciduous and evergreen forests, high desert, sea coast, sagebrush, tundra, and grasslands). No stranger to people, the raven has followed the progress of the North American people for centuries, scavenging and pillaging from waste, spillage, and full stores of untouched food. Subject to many problem-solving experiments by scientists, the common raven has stood out as one of the most intelligent of creatures to neighbour people. While they are typically lone travelers (save for when there's a big carcass or a landfill nearby), common ravens are far from common, and always seem to have a spring in their step. Not to mention that ravens are highly inquisitive, and will therefore stick their beaks in peoples' business as often as they can: observing probing, and weeding out just what's going on.
12 The Domestic Cat
Oh this should come as no surprise to anyone. Anyone who decides they are a dog lover rather than a cat lover typically has issues of self-esteem, and the need to be a provider. Those who tend to call themselves solely cat lovers typically do so because they don't want to constantly pay attention to or receive companionship from a dog. While cats can indeed be drama queens, and seek out attention in their own ways, it is often a means to an end (a nice brushing, a healthy feeding, an emptying of the litter box). The domestic cat knows who is in control, and knows just how to get what it wants. Dogs will offer loyalty and excitement for reward, whereas the domestic cat will offer its owner a chance to know ahead of time what it wants and when. If not satisfied, the domestic cat will certainly make it known until it is appeased. In all seriousness though, the domestic cat, given obviously no significant predators, is a very intelligent and conniving little creature, able to fend for itself. That being said, it prefers to have its work done for it so it can continue to lounge in its personal ray of sunshine on its own La-Z-Boy.
11 The Dragonfly
Besides the fact that the dragonfly looks absolutely terrifying up close, it is, in fact, a super-predator. Ancestors of the dragonfly have been found in fossils dating as far back as three hundred and twenty five million years old. Having since shrunk significantly in size, the dragonfly still reigns supreme in its habitat. Feasting on all manner of insects and creepy-crawlies, (as well as small fish when in its larva stage) this four-winged, compound-eyed specimen is divvied up into three thousand unique species. Most of these are tropical, but obviously there are still many that call the waters of North America home. The construction of the dragonfly, though perhaps seen as both simple and ugly, is in fact both complex and beautiful. The construction of the eye of a dragonfly, for example, can contain up to twenty four thousand ommatidia. These are basically individual lenses that are part of the compound eye of the insect. Each ommatidium is representative of one part of a full range of image, and each and every one of them must be processed together in order to fully take in surroundings.
10 The Ferret
These little weasel relatives are fierce little creatures, and are the domesticated version of the European polecat. Given their close relation, ferrets and polecats have sometimes bred a hybrid and feral species that has devastated much native fauna in New Zealand. Likely in domestication for nearly two and half thousand years now, the ferret has been used as a mouser, a rabbit hunter, and simply as a pet (though in no way a simple pet to keep). Happy to live in social groups, a community of ferrets is referred to as a business, and for good reason. The ferret, with its overwhelmingly quick metabolism, and affinity for meat, must feed frequently, but tends to sleep fourteen to eighteen hours per day. Given that, ferrets must get to business pretty quickly in order to sustain themselves. Much like skunks, ferrets have a scent gland that they use to secrete an odour when startled of threatened. Thankfully, the ferret's odour is less potent and quicker to dissipate than that of a skunk. Also, when excited, a ferret will engage in what is commonly called the 'weasel war dance'. In spite of the title, this clumsy bit of hopping into objects is actually an invitation to play.
9 The Giant Otter
Obviously not giant in the above photo, the giant otter can reach near two metres in length (6ft). These beastly South American relatives of the weasel are a huge difference from their tiny ferret cousins. Calling only the rivers and creeks of the Amazon, Orinoco, and La Plata home, the otters must eat six to nine pounds of food each day. Their meals consist largely of fish, but may be substituted by any combination of crustaceans, snakes, and other river creatures. Monogamous family creatures, giant otters dig and build dens in which to give birth and raise young. After the first ten months of nurture, the young emerge from the den, and it is already difficult to tell the young from the parents by this early an age. Very territorial and willing to aggressively defend their dens, giant otters are, thanks to human interference, a very rare creature indeed. Though a super-predator in its own habitat, hunting by humans has limited the giant otter population to perhaps only several thousand.
8 The Honey Badger
Refraining from linking the "Honey Badger Don't Give A Shit" video here, suffice it to say that this "most fearless animal in the world" (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), truly does not give a shit. Able to take on bites by poisonous snakes, the honey badger, though perhaps in pain, will recover from incredibly toxic bites in under five hours. Honey badger youths are prevented by their mothers from catching snakes until requisite training has been had, but the fact that this mammal cares little about taking on venomous snakes is simply breathtaking. With more than sixty species of prey on the honey badger's list, this little scamp will call crocodiles, black mambas, cobras, jackals, and wild cats dinner! And that's not even to mention that the honey badger prefers to hunt alone! Traveling up to forty kilometres within a twenty-four-hour period, and hunting for two eight-hour periods within that twenty four, the honey badger has an intense amount of stamina and power.
7 The Least Weasel
This little weasel, who one might reasonably think is both the last and least when it comes to the food chain, is in fact one of the most vicious and villainous creature on this list. Though it prefers to chomp on small rodents, the least weasel will make due with birds, rabbits, frogs, and insects when need be. Because of its incredibly active lifestyle which involves hunting, mating and burrowing, the least weasel must consume forty to sixty percent of its own body weight each and every day. A very active hunter, the little weasel doesn't stop there though. Typically hunting more than it can consume, the least weasel seems to get a thrill out of the hunt and will burrow any overkill it manages... though it is typical that the overkill is either scavenged, or simply left to rot as this weasel prefers the taste of fresh meat. Found now only in the state of Indiana, due to human interference, the least weasel's over-preying is actually smiled upon, keeping rodent populations at bay in the state.
6 The Peregrine Falcon
Though almost made extinct due to pesticide use by humans, the peregrine falcon has begun to reappear in urban and coastal areas, as well as mountainous river areas, like the Oiseau Rock area of the Ottawa River. Though it's clear that the peregrine is a falcon, and therefore a clear predator, the near extinction and relative amazement of this bird has persuaded this author to add it to the list. With females relative in size to standard crows, and males of much smaller stature, the peregrine falcon feeds typically on medium-sized birds (in cities, pigeons; in rural areas, ducks). Besides the incredible ability of a relatively small or medium-sized bird to snatch a duck out of the air, the speed at which the peregrine falcon does it is what makes it so astonishing. The fastest animal on Earth, the peregrine falcon has been recorded diving as fast as three hundred and ninety kilometres per hour (242mph)! A super-predator indeed, given another shot by rehabilitation, it will be interesting to see how they soar.
5 The Raccoon
While many might consider raccoon stupid and pesky vermin, they are incredibly intelligent, and skillful... and yeah, they might still be a pain to many people. Found in forests, marshes, prairies, and of course cities, the raccoon feeds on a wide variety of flora and fauna, and is able to do so by the use of its long fingers. Though, in spite of common belief, the raccoon does not have opposable thumbs, it does, nonetheless, have great strength and dexterity with its hands, which allow it to engage in many human-like activities. Given how much time raccoons spend around humans, it is no surprise that behaviours are adopted and adapted. Quick to catch, the raccoon dines on crayfish, frogs, and other aquatic life, when near rivers and streams. On land, the raccoon will feed on mice, insects, raid nests for eggs, and of course, open a trash can or two to feed on the leftover of wearied people.
4 The Red Fox
From forests to grasslands, and from mountains to deserts, the red fox has been able to adapt to habitats across the board for a long time. Even finding its way around farmland and suburban areas, to deal with people, and get a reputation for its cunning. The red fox is a solitary hunter, and while it may only survive in the wild an average of two to four years, it has a merry go at rodents, rabbits, birds, and other small game (giving it a film rep for stealing babies, for some reason). That being said, the fox will adapt its diet to its surroundings, adding to its super-predatory status. The red fox is not above feasting on fruits, vegetables, fish, frogs, and even worms. Though solitary, red foxes still communicate with one another, and signal not just by urination and scent marking, but also by the use of their stunning and vibrant tails; signalling warnings or invitations as needed. Birthing two to twelve pups per litter, both parents will stay with their young through the Summer months, training them to be on their own come the Autumn and Winter.
3 Small Asian Mongoose
As advertised in the name, the small Asian mongoose happens to be of smaller stature, originates from Asia, and is in fact a mongoose. Stretching from Iraq to China, and populating the island of Java, the small Asian mongoose has quite a playground. In addition to the areas it already inhabited, the little mongoose has been introduced to South America, Japan, Europe, and several Pacific and Caribbean islands as a means of pest control, ridding these places of both rodents and snakes. Though they mainly eat insects, these creatures will, as mentioned above, eat rodents and snakes, as well as crabs, frogs, spiders, scorpions, birds, and their eggs. With no known predators, this apex species has a surprisingly speedy gestation period of only forty nine days, where a litter of one to five youngsters are born. This may not be as surprising as initially thought, given that the creature has a life expectancy of only four years. With the luxury of an incredible expanse of play and hunting ground, the small Asian mongoose has much of the world in its claws.
2 Smallmouth Bass
That's right! One of the most typical pan fries in the country homes of northern North American citizens, the smallmouth bass is indeed a super-predator. Found predominantly in the Great Lakes watershed, the St. Lawrence River, and northward above Lake Nipissing, the smallmouth bass resides in clear, and rocky lakes and rivers. Similar to the habitat of trout, but with the ability to thrive in a wider range of temperatures, this bass prefers either deep water, offshore shoals, or rocky crags and points near the shoreline. Typically found at one to three pounds, the record in Ontario at least, has been ten pounds, so a ten pound test line is always a safe bet when fishing these guys. In spite of the ease and frequency with which people catch and eat these fish, the smallmouth bass is a hunter and a great predator below the surface. Basically, it will feed on anything it can manage to swallow; plankton, minnows, smaller fish, and crayfish are definitely part of the smallmouth bass' daily diet.
1 The Tasmanian Devil
This cute little scamp, made famous by the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes series, is indeed a vicious and devilish little creature. Quickly flying off the handle when threatened, fighting over a mate, or defending food, the Tasmanian devil will go into a rage, baring its teeth, lunging at any perceived threat, and uttering sickening, guttural growls. The world's largest carnivorous marsupial, the devil can deliver, pound-for-pound, one of the most powerful mammalian bites. Strictly carnivorous, the Tasmanian devil will feast on snakes, birds, fish, and insects. Also happy to gorge on carrion communally, the devil is most rowdy when fighting over scraps of carcass with another devil. These creatures will eat every last bit of hair, organ, and bone that is afforded them, and with vicious quality. The title of devil was given to these marsupials when Europeans first landed in Australia, and witnessed the seemingly demonic actions of the creatures. Though they are now protected, the Tasmanian devils, who used to populate mainland Australia, are now only present on the island of Tasmania itself.
Sources: www.ontario.ca, www.theanimalfiles.com, www.nationalgeographic.com, www.nature.org, www.honeybadger.com, www.allaboutbirds.org, www.britannica.com
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