A Bull moose grazing in a field suddenly jerks up his head.
He senses that wolves are nearby. Ears pricked, nostrils flared, he
stares in the wolves’ direction.
The wolves stare back. They had quietly stalked the moose
for nearly half an hour. Once they got close, they intended to
do what wolves always do when hunting: charge full speed at
the moose. This rush usually made prey run away so the wolves
could chase it.
Not this time. They had lost the advantage of surprise.
The alert moose had sensed them. He did not run, but stood his
ground and continued to return their stare.
The moose, without moving a muscle, is sending the wolves
many signals. By standing his ground and looking at them, he
warns the predators that they have been seen, and that he is more
than a match for them.
The wolves are aware of this. They have speed, strength, and
sharp fangs, but the moose is also well equipped for self-defense.
The massive antlers on his head are the least of their worries—a
bull moose mainly uses the antlers to battle other bull moose—
but his hard, sharp hooves are deadly. The wolves know that a powerful kick from a hind hoof or a slashing kick from a front
hoof could injure or kill one of them.
The moose takes a step toward the wolves. The wolves turn
around and glide back into the woods, giving up the hunt. They
will search for easier prey.
Though wolf and moose are hunter and hunted, they are
alike in one way: Both species defend themselves with body parts
that are mainly used for other, non-defensive purposes. These
body parts did not evolve primarily as weapons for defense. The
wolf’s teeth, for example, are tools for killing prey and eating
meat. The moose’s hooves are for running, and his antlers are for
male-to-male combat in mating season.
Many animals have evolved special body parts used for defense,
such as stings, but many other animals defend themselves
with body parts that have evolved for other activities: eating, digging,
climbing, and the like.
Hunting together, the wolves were working as a group, a behavior
that prey species also use to their advantage. Many species
that live in herds, flocks, schools, or other groups cooperate in
defense. This defense may consist of sounding an alarm, posting
a lookout, or working together to repel a predator. In some insect
species, individual insects even develop into specially formed
workers called soldiers.