arrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upavatarcameracartchevron-upchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upclosecommentemailfullscreen-closefullscreen-opengridheadphonesheart-filledheart-openlockmap-geolocatormap-pushpinArtboard 1Artboard 1Artboard 1minusng-borderpauseplayplusprintArtboard 1sharefacebookgithubArtboard 1Artboard 1linkedinlinkedin_inpinterestpinterest_psnapchatsnapchat_2tumblrtwittervimeovinewhatsappspeakerstar-filledstar-openzoom-inzoom-out

5 of Nature's Wildest Animal Showdowns

Octopuses that tear off tentacles and crustaceans with a punch like a bullet are featured in a new book.

View Images

An archerfish, Toxotes jaculator, shoots down its prey in Indonesia.


Animals fighting usually makes people think of two majestic elk, antlers locked in battle, or possibly a pair of male lions, bloodstained with teeth bared.

But conflict in the natural world goes far beyond those well-known examples. In fact, many showdowns are, well, less showy, and involve clever and even downright odd defenses. ("Watch: Kickboxing Kangaroos and 4 of Nature's Most Impressive Fighters.")

Take North America's possum, which has evolved an immunity to the venom of rattlesnakes, or the pufferfish, which expands to three times its size to avoid getting swallowed by a hungry predator.

In his new book National Geographic Angry Birds Animal Showdown: 50 Wild and Crazy Animal Face-Offs author Mel White details the weirdest ways animals outwit each other to live another day. (See Animal Fight Night on National Geographic Channel.)

Why do animal battles fascinate us? According to White, "There's the visceral thing of animals fighting—who's going to win?" But it's also interesting to see how animals evolve to cope with our wild world.

The sixth book in a partnership with Rovio, the entertainment company behind the video game Angry Birds, Animal Showdown breaks down the face-offs into four levels of mood: Annoyed, Testy, Outraged, and Furious.

View Images

National Geographic asked White, also a National Geographic magazine contributor, to share his five favorite animal showdowns.

Blanket Octopus vs. Shark

Blanket octopuses in the genus Tremoctopus are aptly named: The female has webbing between its eight arms that resemble a blanket. (Watch a video of the blanket octopus swimming.)

It's not for keeping warm, though. If attacked by a shark, the octopus can detach one of her eight arms and part of her flowing cape, which distracts the predator. (Watch video: "Shark vs. Octopus.")

These ocean denizens have other tricks up their sleeves: They're immune to the stinging cells of the dangerous Portuguese man-of-war, and can actually tear a tentacle off the jellyfish to wield as a defensive weapon against predators.

The wonders don't stop there. The female can be up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) long, while the male is a diminutive 1 inch (2.5 centimeters)—one of the most striking size differences between males and females in the animal kingdom.

In fact, the "male is so inconspicuous, no one found a male [until about a decade ago] somewhere around the Great Barrier Reef," White said. (Related: "'Walnut-Size' Male Octopus Seen Alive for First Time.")

Mantis Shrimp vs. Clam

Shrimp is not the right word for this mighty crustacean, which is also nicknamed the thumb splitter. (Get mantis shrimp wallpaper.)

These colorful creatures are armed with a powerful club that they keep folded up against their bodies, like a praying mantis holds its forearms, until they need it to crush an unsuspecting clam, snail, crab, or other prey.

"They shoot this appendage literally with the force of a pistol bullet," White said.

The mantis shrimp's shattering blow is also enough to break aquarium glass—which is why aquarists are very careful about keeping mantis shrimps as pets.

Watch a video of a mantis shrimp packing a powerful punch:

Archerfish vs. Bug

Archerfish, which include several different species in the genus Toxotes, live in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The fish are known for their incredible skill in shooting a jet of water at insects, which causes the unsuspecting victim to fall into the water—and quickly become dinner. (Related: "Mystery Solved: How Archerfish Shoot Water at Prey With Stunning Precision.")

Research has revealed that these supershooters can measure an insect's position on, say, a streamside twig by judging the refraction of light in the water. In other words, since light behaves differently in water than in air, the insect appears distorted from its true position. The fish are able to take that into account—and aim accordingly.

"It's almost like they're doing geometry in their heads in a fraction of a second," White said.

Pig-Tailed Macaque vs. Pig-Tailed Macaque

These Southeast Asian monkeys, so named for their curly, piglike tails, are known for their irritable and aggressive nature, White said.

"They are thuggish—males fight to establish dominance, shake branches, and snarl," he said.

Earlier this year in Sabah, Borneo, White captured a photo of a battle-tested male.

"He's got this big, bloody gash on his cheek, one of his nostrils is torn, his left eye is swollen shut—I had proof of the fact these guys have these vicious fights." (See more monkey pictures.)

Since fighting not only takes energy, but also potentially leads to life-threatening injuries, researchers are studying pig-tailed macaques to find out why and how they fight.

A 2005 study of captive pig-tailed macaques revealed that some pig-tailed macaques will "police," or intervene, to end a fight.

View Images

A male southern pig-tailed macaque, Macaca nemestrina, is seen in Indonesia's Gunung Leuser National Park in 2012. Males of this species often wage vicious battles.


Fence Lizard vs. Fire Ant

Fire ants, 0.2-inch-long (six millimeters) invaders that have moved into parts of the southeastern U.S., can kill a three-inch-long (eight centimeters) fence lizard in a minute. (Related: "Lizards Evolving Rapidly to Survive Deadly Fire Ants.")

But fence lizards in the area have evolved the ability to "shake it off." When fire ants climb on its skin, the reptile twitches vigorously to rid itself of the insects and runs away to safety. This behavior is not seen in fence lizards that don't have to deal with fire ants.

What's more, fence lizards that live in fire ant territory are starting to develop longer legs than their counterparts—evidence, White said, of evolution in action.

Tell us—what animal conflicts have you witnessed?

Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+.

Comment on This Story