Monday 2 August 2010

In Your Face!: Squirters of the Animal Kingdom

From the cutsey-wutsey skunk to the strangely disconcerting velvet worm, many creatures spit, spray and squirt for their lives. Often it's a defense mechanism against certain death, often it takes so much energy that said creature is reluctant to do it, often the results are so appaling that it's best not to risk it. So if you want to avoid an awful stink or lizard blood all over your face, read on and tread carefully...

They may be cute and cuddly but don't get too close! The skunk is famous (or notorious) for the way it defends itself from predators and assorted silly-billys. It sprays chemicals that smell like a mixture of rotten eggs, garlic and burnt rubber at its target, with great aim it can strike at a distance of 5 metres. The stuff can be smelt from a mile away and can even cause temporary blindness! Now that's a bad smell!

Image: sarefo
Bloody Nosed Beetle
The bloody-nosed beetle is indeed a large beetle, found in parts of Europe where it can be seen plodding along amiably. It doesn't, however, have a bloody nose... or a nose. What it actually has is the ability to exude a horrible, nasty tasting red fluid from its mouth when the need arises. It's not actually blood, but it's a bit queasy nonetheless.

Spitting Cobra
It's a cobra, but it doesn't really spit. Rather it uses muscles next to its venom glands to squirt venom through forward facing holes in its fangs. The stuff can be sprayed up to 2 metres distance and can cause blindness. Like most squirters, this is for defense from predators. When it comes to food, the spitting cobra relies on a good old fashioned bite.

Image: Muhammad Mahdi Karim
The good ol' housefly. Found on faeces, rotting food and decaying flesh, an important vector of bacteria and disease, the father and mother of maggots... there's a lot to love about the housefly. They also prove that squirting and spraying ain't all about defence, they spit on their food to predigest it before sucking it back up. They also regurgitate food to take it back in again. Keep that banquet covered!

Image: Piekfrosch
The strange pangolin can be found in parts of Africa and Asia where it uses sharp claws to break into termite and ant mounds for food. It also climbs trees and rolls itself up into a ball where it uses its scaly armour for protection. The pangolin seems to be very well armed for life in a dangerous world. When you consider its ability to squirt a stinky acid from nether glands, you have a mammal that's best left in peace.

Image: albert kok
Soft, fleshy, no skeleton to speak of, the octopus could prove an easily digested meal for some horrible meanie. They have a secret weapon though, firing a cloud of thick, black ink confuses predators and allows the octopus to make a quick getaway. It is thought that this stuff even affects the sense of smell of sharks.

Image source
Bombardier Beetle
Most bombardiers are human beings dealing with artillery, so what could a little beetle have to do with that? Well, the bombardier beetle has an absolutely remarkable way of defending itself, it mixes two chemicals in its body to cause a violent reaction. The long and the short of it (actually just the short of it) is that the chemicals boil and, with a loud pop, are fired from the tip of the abdomen. It causes pain to humans, but insects and small creatures die. An unusually brutal defense! 

Image: Zylorian
Horned Lizard
This is a strange one. Remember the bloody-nosed beetle which doesn't have a bloody nose at all? Well, the thorned lizard has thorns! More to the point, it can increase its own blood pressure to rupture tiny blood vessels around its eyelids and fire a stream of blood to a distance of up to 5 feet. I think the horned lizard makes its feelings about getting eaten very clear. 

Image: Kobufoto
Armoured Ground Cricket
"Oh look, a yummy, if somewhat fearsome looking cricket. Looks like supper is sorted. Hold still..." And then it squirts a load of yucky toxic blood in your face, up to 30cm distance. Don't be detered though! If you keep at it, it might vomit up a gutload of whatever its been eating all day. And that would be some sort of victory... right?

Image source
Velvet Worm
The delightful housefly has already shown that squirting needn't be just for defense, and here's another example. The velvet worm has slime glands just below its antennae from which it fires... slime (did you guess?). Once fired, this slime becomes a net of threads covered in drops of sticky fluid which immobilises prey, before drying, shrinking, losing its stickiness and becoming brittle. The velvet worm can then mosey on down and bite its victim to properly kill and eat it. They can even eat the dried up slime to add back to the stockpile. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.


What kind of plodding do I consider amiable? Check it out.


  1. That is a really fun blog post! I have been spat on by a black-spitting cobra - with no affect.

  2. Phew!

    I hear you're fine if it hits unbroken skin, but venom in the eyes or blood leaves one significantly less than 'fine'. I reckon I'll take their word for it!