What is Prey? - Definition & Examples Video

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  • 0:02 A Look at Prey
  • 0:27 Types of Prey
  • 1:46 Adaptations
  • 2:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

What makes an organism a prey item? Can prey become predator? Prey come in all shapes and sizes, and many have special adaptations to help them survive.

A Look at Prey

You have likely seen this scenario on TV: a lion stalks an unsuspecting antelope, a chase ensues, the lion catches the antelope and has a very large meal to eat. In this situation the lion is the predator and the antelope is the prey. Predation is a biological interaction between predator and prey, but it is not always as clear, or as dramatic, as in this example.

Types of Prey

There are many types of predation and prey, and the example of the lion hunting the antelope is called carnivory. Predation can also occur as parasitism, in which the prey is a host that supports a parasite, such as a virus. In this case, the prey may be harmed but not killed outright like the antelope. When the prey is the same species as the predator, this is called cannibalism.

Plants can also be prey, and this is called herbivory. When a deer eats grass, the plant is the prey and the animal the predator. Herbivory is interesting because it highlights how sometimes an organism can be predator or prey depending on the situation. As a mouse is prey as it runs from an attack by a hawk, but becomes predator as soon as it eats some tasty sunflower seeds.

Humans can also be both predator and prey. Without weapons, humans are very vulnerable to carnivory by larger animals, such as alligators and lions. However, when they have weapons, such as guns, traps, and bows and arrows, they quickly turn the tables and can make the predator the prey.

Additionally, organisms do not have to be larger than their prey to be successful predators. Venomous snakes are able to take advantage of a variety of large prey items because an injection of venom can be quite fatal.

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