Attack me if you dare

Defence mechanisms of amphibians and reptiles

source: Michael Marshall
New Scientist vol 208 no 2792/2793, 25th December 2010
starts p 63, three pages long

Many amphibians and reptiles have very effective defence mechanisms. An example is the sharp-ribbed newt, which can punch out spears from tips on its ribs. The spears carry a toxin secreted onto the newt's skin. They penetrate the skin rather than using pores or holes. Meanwhile, the hairy frog, found in Cameroon, has retractable claws, brought out to slash enemies when needed. Spanish ladder snakes rotate and thrash their bodies to break off their tails. Some 20% of adults surveyed lacked a tail. Five-lined skinks shed their tails, which continue moving after separation, a distraction for predators. Poison dart froms from S America use toxins, and are brightly coloured to warn of their poison. Texas horned lizards shoot poison blood from their eyes. The poison comes from ants eaten by the lizards.

Meanwhile, Californian squirrels sometimes eat sloughed rattlesnake skin, and rattlesnakes are less interested in the smell of squirrel mixed with snake than in squirrel smell alone. Insects can also use surprising methods of defence, some of which involve the death of the insect to protect its colony.