Survival Skills in Animals

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

The natural world can be a tough place. Learn about the survival skills animals use to make it in that world, sometimes against the odds. Check what you've learned with a quiz. Updated: 08/17/2022

The Harsh Natural World

The natural world isn't always as pleasant a place as you might see in cartoons. It can be cutthroat, painful, and at times it is difficult for animals to survive. Human activity has made this all the harder, as territories and ecosystems of plants and animals get destroyed, and natural patterns disrupted.

For animals to live long enough to have young and continue their species, they often need clever strategies. Those strategies are called survival skills. Survival skills are the techniques animals use to stay alive and safe. They include everything from protecting territories, using camouflage, teamwork, sharing resources, fleeing from danger, and methods of scaring and intimidating enemies.

In this lesson we're going to talk about a few of the most important common survival skills. We'll talk about some of the basics that animals need to survive: finding food, marking territories, defending resources, and avoiding dangers.

Finding Food

While it may not seem like a survival 'skill,' the ability to find food is one of the most important ones an animal can have. Without food, after all, an animal will simply die. Animals can have ingenious ways of finding food. This is true whether they eat plants, animals or both. Birds of prey like hawks, eagles, and ospreys sweep from the sky at incredible speeds to catch smaller animals unawares; they have eyesight that allows them to see from way up in the air; and they possess strong and sharp talons, or claws, which they use to grab their food.

An osprey in flight
Ospreys and other birds of prey have sharp eyes to search for food, and can swoop down at speed.

Some animals have huge amounts of physical endurance and stamina, allowing them to chase prey for hours and hours until their target tires. Giraffes have long necks so they can reach leaves high up in the trees. However they do it, an animal's ability to find food is vital to survival.

A giraffe eating leaves
Giraffes have tall necks to reach trees for food.

Marking Territory

Some animals, like wolves and many big cats, have territory that they defend from others. Territory is an area of land that an animal consistently defends from competititors. Those animals are able to hunt exclusively on that territory, making it more likely that they will survive. The animals that aren't strong enough to hold a territory do not survive, and the ones that do become stronger over time. Territories can be marked using urine, or simply by patrolling and pushing away competitors.

A pack of wolves
Wolves hunt in packs to defend territory and improve their ability to hunt for food.

Defending Resources

Defending a territory means defending the resources in it, including water, prey animals, or edible plants. Animals may have specific features to help them defend resources. They may have sharp teeth or claws, or be bigger than they'd need to be just to catch prey. Sometimes the male or female of the species has one of these features for this exact reason: male lions, for example, use their larger size to defend their pride's territory, while less dominating female lions hunt for food.

A male lion
The male lion is more dominating to defend their territory

Avoiding Danger

A predator is an animal that hunts other animals for food, where as prey are animals that are hunted by a predator. Animals can just as easily be prey as be a predator. When an animal is threatened, they need defenses and behaviors to help them survive. This could be the strength to fight off the threat, but it could also be the speed to flee. There's a reason that gazelle and deer are so easily spooked and can run so fast: if they couldn't, they might not survive.

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