Predation characteristics, types and examples

Abraham McLaughlin
Predation characteristics, types and examples

The predation It is an ecological process in which an animal kills or consumes part of the body of another to feed itself, which implies a transfer of energy from the organism that is consumed by the one it feeds on. The animal that kills is called a "predator" and the predator is known as a "prey.".

Predators are generally the animals with the fewest number of individuals in an ecosystem, since they occupy the upper levels of the food chain. It is also important to note that predation requires certain specialized biological characteristics, among which physical and behavioral aspects stand out..

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Some predators stalk their prey from dark corners until they are within reach; others run tirelessly after their prey until they reach them and others simply trick them into catching them.

According to these descriptions, the first images of predators that come to mind are mammals such as lions, wolves or cheetahs stalking deer, antelope or rabbits..

However, there are “large” predators and “small” predators, as it is not a characteristic restricted to mammals: there are predatory insects of other insects and even predatory microorganisms of other microorganisms, that is, there is predation in practically any ecosystem.

Predators are the organisms most sensitive to abrupt environmental changes, so many conservation campaigns focus on monitoring, protecting and restoring their populations in each of the ecosystems where they inhabit..

Article index

  • 1 Characteristics of predation
    • 1.1 Physical or phenotypic
    • 1.2 Evolutionary and behavioral
  • 2 Types of predation
    • 2.1 Carnivory
    • 2.2 Herbivory
    • 2.3 Parasitism
  • 3 Examples of predation
    • 3.1 Carnivores
    • 3.2 Herbivores
    • 3.3 Parasitoids
  • 4 References

Predation characteristics

Predation is represented as a kind of competition between two species that fight to survive. The prey struggles to escape from the predator, while the predator pursues its prey with obsessive interest in order to feed and survive in the ecosystem..

Such competition "shapes" in a relevant way practically all the biological characteristics of a species, which we can classify into:

Physical or phenotypic

Predators display special features and shapes to catch their prey. Predatory animals generally have teeth, claws, large muscles, and impressive hunting abilities. Some produce powerful poisons to kill or immobilize their prey, making it easy to catch them..

Prey also have highly developed features to evade predators, either to detect them at great distances, to blend in with the landscape, or to flee quickly..

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When a predator is after potential prey, it runs for its food, while the prey runs for its life. If the predator fails, they will be left hungry and this can influence all the biological processes in their body, decreasing their chances of reproducing and having young..

If the prey cannot escape, it will lose its life and if it did not reproduce previously, it will not pass its genes on to the next generation, increasing the variability of the species..

If it has already reproduced, it will not be able to do so again and its genes will be in a lower proportion in the next generation, in contrast to other individuals of the same species that are more successful in escaping predators..

Evolutionary and behavioral

The competition of predation is kept in a constant state of equilibrium, since when one predator or its prey begins to be more successful than the other in the competition, this interaction is “self-regulating”. For example:

Imagine that predators begin to win the competition and catch their prey with relatively greater ease. If this were the case, the decrease in the number of prey will cause the predators to start a fierce competition among themselves to see who gets which..

On the other hand, if the prey easily escape from their predators, there will come a point where they will be so abundant that the predators will begin to catch them more easily and this will result in the predators reproducing at a higher rate..

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All the biological traits that characterize predators and their predators are shaped by processes of natural selection. If the prey does not effectively escape or reproduce constantly, the predated species will eventually become extinct..

In addition, predators that fail to catch their prey and feed on it will not be able to feed, or feed their young. This translates into a decrease in the number of predators in the ecosystem, which will end with the extinction of the predatory species..

Types of predation

Three main types of predation can be identified: carnivory, herbivory, and parasitism.


Examples of carnivores

Carnivorous predation is the best known type of predation and involves an animal catching another alive to feed on its body or meat. All predators need to consume the meat or body of their prey in order to survive.

Some species are facultative carnivores, that is, they can eat meat, but it is not essential for their survival. Animals such as bears and humans, for example, can survive by feeding on berries and fruits.


The orangutan is a herbivore

Herbivorous predators feed exclusively on plants, algae and microbes capable of synthesizing their own food (autotrophs). Herbivorous predators are usually the prey of carnivorous predators.

As is true for carnivores, some species of predatory animals are facultative herbivores, that is, they can feed on plants, but also on other animals. This is the case of some cats and bears in South America.


Tetragnatha montana parasitized by Acrodactyla quadrisculpta larvae. Source: Miller, J. A .; Belgers, J. D. M .; Beentjes, K. K .; Zwakhals, K .; van Helsdingen, P. [CC BY 3.0 (]

Parasitic predators consume or feed on part of their prey throughout their lives. All parasites live in the body of their prey, which is why it is said that these are also hosts.

- Parasitoids

They are a group of insects that generally belong to the orders Hymenoptera and Diptera. They are free-living organisms in their adult stage, but during their larval stage they develop inside the eggs of other species.

Inside the egg of the other species of insect, which frequently corresponds to butterfly, spider or ant eggs, the parasitoids feed on the juvenile individual contained there.

Seen more explicitly: the larva of the parasitoid eats the larva inside the egg, develops to maturity and hatches to go out into the environment.

Parasites and parasitoids are not facultative, as they can only survive by permanently feeding on their prey.

In the case of parasitoids, the individual in the adult stage becomes a carnivore and feeds on other insects, although in its larval stage it depends exclusively on the egg of its host..

Examples of predation


Wolves and lions are perhaps classic examples of carnivorous predators. They hunt their prey in packs, focusing on chasing and cornering at least one individual, to attack and seriously injure it with their claws and fangs designed for this purpose..

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Once the prey dies, the herd feeds on it to meet their nutritional needs. On many occasions, the prey manage to escape from their predators and they are forced to retreat with empty stomachs until they go hunting again..


Herbivores are common in our rural settings: Cows, goats, and sheep are all herbivorous animals that feed on the grass, grasses, and bushes found in grazing sites. In that environment they are born, reproduce and die.

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However, there are large herbivores that inhabit wild environments: elephants, giraffes, pandas, among others.


The most common example of parasitoid animals is that of wasps that lay their larvae or their eggs inside the egg of a beetle or butterfly..

Photograph of the parasitic wasp Peristenus igoneutis (Source: RedWolf, via Wikimedia Commons)

The larva of the wasp feeds on the egg of the beetle and ends up killing it. Once the larva of the wasp is sufficiently mature, it breaks the egg and passes to a free life stage like that of its parent..


  1. Curio, E. (2012). The ethology of predation (Vol. 7). Springer Science & Business Media.
  2. Milinski, M. (1993). Predation risk and feeding behavior. Behavior of teleost fishes, 285-305.
  3. Smith, T. M., Smith, R. L., & Waters, I. (2012). Elements of ecology. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.
  4. Stevens, A. N. (2012). Predation, herbivory, and parasitism.
  5. Taylor, R. J. (2013). Predation. Springer Science & Business Media.

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