Some creatures are created in a distinct way than others. They occupy the top of the food chain because to their ecological function. Other predators pose no threat to them once they reach adulthood. These are apex predators, as we define them.
What is an Apex Predator?
An organism that sits at the top of the food chain in a ecosystem is defined as an apex predator. They feed on a variety of other species in their environment, yet they are the only ones that feed on them.
When apex predators become prey in the animal kingdom, there are certain exceptions that will be discussed in this article. A bigger member of the same species or hostile herbivores pose the main danger to an apex predator in most cases.
In many cases, apex predators are bigger animals than those in their surroundings, but they don’t have to be. Apex predator species are most vulnerable to predation when they are still juveniles.
12 of the World’s Top Apex Predators
The largest of the dolphin family is the killer whale. They may be found in the Southern Oceans, near Antarctica, but also in Arctic and Alaskan coastal waters and in African seas. They are nearly ubiquitous, with higher numbers near Antarctica. These creatures may live anywhere from 30 to 90 years in the wild, grow to over 30 feet (10 meters), and weigh up to 11 tons (9,979 kilograms).
Orcas form family pods with their family, which they hunt, play with, and live in. Pods have been observed to congregate for mating or hunting huge prey, with numbers ranging from a few to over twenty.
Among the most intelligent creatures on the planet are orcas. Orcas are thought to communicate at least partially through their own language, according to scientists. Both very sophisticated hunting tactics and complex social organizations are developed using their intelligence.
The diet of an orca varies depending on both where they live and the pod’s learned behaviors. Some species feed almost entirely on fish, whereas others feed primarily on marine creatures such as seals.
Killer whales have essentially become the oceans’ undisputed apex predators, based on further research and observation. A group of whales was recently seen hunting and feeding on the world’s biggest marine, a blue whale, in a video. Orcas are not threatened by predation, with the exception of human hunting and pollution.
The great white shark used to be the oceans’ top predator, but orcas have been observed to prey on them and consume their livers. Our next apex predator is as a result of this.
Sharks may be found in practically any marine habitat across the globe. Because of how well-adapted and successful biological sharks have become, millions of years of evolution have left them largely unchanged.
The great white shark is at the top of the food chain. White sharks are the biggest of the predatory sharks, growing to over twenty feet long and weighing up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg). Basking sharks, megamouth sharks, and whale sharks are the only species that grow larger and feed almost exclusively on plankton.
Humans, bigger white sharks, and orcas are the only dangers white sharks face. They mostly stalk marine mammals from what are known as kill zones, and feed on them. After seals venture out for food, the sharks hug the deeper water. White sharks attack from below and behind when they do.
Sharks, in general, dominate marine ecosystems, apart from white sharks. Only bigger sharks pose a danger to tiger sharks, bull sharks, and hammerheads, who occupy the top of their respective food chains.
With some individuals weighing over 600 pounds (270 kg), tigers are one of the world’s biggest big cats. From India and China to the frigid forests of Siberia, you can find them all over Asia.
Tigers are different from most other big cats in that they like the water. They can swim well, and they utilize lakes and rivers on a regular basis.
Tigers, unlike most other large cats, are fascinated by the sea. They have excellent swimming skills, and they drink from rivers and ponds.
The majority of tigers live alone and fight other tigers for control of the land they call their own. Tigers prey on practically everything, despite the fact that they have no natural predators.
Rabbits, salmon, deer, and wild boar have all been discovered to be eaten by them. Even tiny bears have been known to be consumed.
Tigers are really dangerous to humans. For their fur and use in traditional Chinese medicine, we have hunted them to near extinction over time. In order to be utilized in medical practice or for their skins, China funds tiger farms, where tigers are bred and reared. Wild tiger populations are also threatened by human population dispersion, urban growth, and habitat degradation.
Wolves may be found in temperate zones all over North America and Eurasia, although certain types are more common. The absence of natural predators and the fact that wolves live in packs, allowing them to take down prey much bigger than themselves, what makes wolves apex predators.
Wolves will devour everything from rabbits to lizards if they aren’t selective eaters. Hoofed terrestrial animals like elk, bison, moose, goats, and deer make up the majority of their diet. Wolves are smart and specialize in attacking weak and vulnerable members of herds, so a pack may take down bigger species of that herd with enough members.
Tigers, brown bears, and cougars pose a serious danger to wolves in places where they meet. The wolves lose their battle in a one-on-one duel. When bigger creatures approach, they can fight as a pack over kills, but typically flee when larger creatures arrive. There are no natural predators for wolves in the wild, except for Siberian tigers who drive wolf populations to extinction.
Every habitat that bears may be found in, the massive, fuzzy mammals we call bears tend to dominate. Omnivorous bears feed on a variety of foods, including berries, fish, and big animals. There are eight different types of bears in the world.
The undisputed ruler of the Arctic is polar bears. They’re perfectly suited animals that hunt seals from platforms on pack ice and are specialized for it. They are safe from all dangers in their environment. Even if their territory overlaps with other bear species, they claim superiority as the world’s largest bear species. See our article on Polar Bears in Alaska for further information on polar bears.
The regions south of the Arctic Circle are ruled by brown bears, whereas polar bears rule the north. Brown bears in inland regions are actually a subspecies of grizzly bears. When the chance arises, these bears may single-handedly kill moose, although they will eat a wide range of foods including berries and salmon.
East of the Mississippi River in North America, black bears may be found in greater numbers. They are typically much lighter than their 600-plus pound (270 kg) brethren, with the majority weighing 60 to 300 kilograms (130 to 660 pounds).
Other predators are regularly chased away from the carcasses by bears. They are large and strong enough to pose a threat to the other creatures in their regions, and it is generally best to escape than battle them.
The lone bears that aren’t apex predators are the adorably and tranquilly pandas. They consume bamboo rather than meat, and they are vegetarians.
For good reason, the African lion is a symbol of strength. These huge cats, which originate in Sub-Saharan Africa, may weigh up to 500 pounds (200 kg). When lions hunt for prey among the zebra, wildebeest, and antelope herds on the African savannah, they face little resistance.
Because of a variety of factors including a changing climate, lack of prey species, and human activity, lions have been thought to be extinct outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
Lions may be found in groups of up to fifteen males, with one to four males per group. They may also form small lioness groups, as well as prides of up to thirty lions. They are able to attack huge prey like water buffalo and animals like zebras, antelope, and wildebeest with relative ease due to their size and quantity. In Africa, they have the most diverse prey.
Lions with up to four males typically live in groups of fifteen or more. Little lioness groups, as well as prides of up to thirty lions, may also be formed by them. Their size and numbers allow them to easily bring down animals like zebras, antelope, and wildebeest, as well as attempt to take down large prey like water buffalo. In Africa, they have the most varied prey.
Hyenas, on the other hand, pose little danger to adult lions and do not prey on them. Lions normally win the battle for food and space, with hyenas depending on their numbers to compete.
The Jaguar is without a doubt the most powerful apex predator in South and Central America. Jaguars are the rulers of the rainforest, with one of the strongest bite forces on Earth and a wide range of prey.
Jaguars have powerful jaws that can crush bone and shells, and they range in weight from 250 pounds (110 kg) to 250 pounds (110 kg). Their hunting strategies, in fact, are stealthy and bite-focused. Jaguars typically attack their victims by the skull or along the spine, puncturing them with their teeth, and then escape. In contrast to African large cats, who often suffocate prey, this is a very different hunting approach.
Jaguars can consume practically anything they find. Reptiles like turtles, caiman, and snakes are their favorite foods, but they’ll also eat mammals like capybara and tapir, fish, monkeys, and birds.
Nothing is a genuine danger to a jaguar in their natural habitat. Since they aren’t afraid of other animals, when they meet them, this is clearly visible. Jaguars are used to being the top dog (or cat), despite the fact that some have learned to fear humans.
Whether you refer to them as cougars, pumas, or mountain lions, they’re the same thing. North American big cats are specialized apex predators. Cougars are a top predator, despite the fact that they will yield kills to larger predators such as black bears, jaguars, wolves, and even a coyote pack.
Pumas have vast ranges and a low population density, which is typical of the solitary species. From the northern Yukon Territory to South America’s Andes Mountains, they can be found. Cougars are often most common in hilly, densely wooded regions.
The majority of the food of pumas is deer species, which they prey on. In addition to insects, rabbits, and rodents, they’ll eat them.
In the past, cougars have been documented to pursue and attack people, although fatalities and serious assaults are no longer common. Apart from humans, no other predators hunt cougars.
Cougars have a scream sound that is distinctly human-like, which they will emit. Below is a sample of the sound you can hear. These cries are said to be the source of stories like skinwalkers, according to theory.
9. Leopard Seals
The second-largest seal species in Antarctica, leopard seals are the most predatory. In comparison to their physical size, they have enormous skulls with powerful jaws and pointed teeth. Orcas are the only known seal predators.
Leopard seals spend the majority of their lives on and around sea ice and can be found in Antarctic waters. They are mostly lone creatures, with moms with pups being the only time you might see them in groups.
Leopard seals eat a wide range of marine creatures. They attack fish, penguins, and even other seal species. Until they reach an age when they may eat more substantial food sources, juveniles will feed on krill.
Global warming is the greatest threat to leopard seal populations. Their habitat is destroyed as temperatures rise and sea ice melts, since they rely on sea ice and the Antarctic environment.
10. Komodo Dragons
The Komodo Dragon is the world’s largest lizard species still alive today. They are virtually unstoppable in their native habitats, growing to 10 feet (3 meters) in length and weighing up to 150 pounds (70 kilograms).
Komodo Dragon, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Motang are just a few of the Indonesian islands where they may be found. They have a strong reputation despite their modest native range.
They’re ambush predators that rush at prey and try to bring them down by a mix of brute strength and blood loss, waiting until suitable prey comes by. Scavengers, on the other hand, have been known to eat carrion and corpses uncovered.
The Komodo dragon is a powerful and quick lizard. They consume their prey whole or in bite-sized pieces, occasionally ramming into objects to aid jamming the food down their esophagus. Even trees have been reported to be knocked down by this method.
Adults favor big animals, but dead bodies (human corpses, eggs, smaller Komodo dragons, reptiles, birds, monkeys), goats, and wild boar are also on the menu.
The majority of crocodilians in an ecosystem are apex predators. These aquatic reptiles, like sharks, have been unchanged for millions of years.
Among the most harmful and strong creatures on the planet is a saltwater crocodile. These crocodiles can live in fresh, brackish, and marine waters and are native to Southeast Asia and Australia. They feed on anything they can steal from sharks and other crocodiles to fish, as well as terrestrial animals that approach the water too closely. They are ambush predators for the most part.
In Africa’s freshwater habitats, Nile crocodiles may be found. They eat a wide variety of other species, making them generalist predators. When they come to the water to drink, they’ll take down gazelles, zebras, and antelope. Basking space, food sources, and territory are all shared by Nile crocodiles. Hippos are their most dangerous opponents.
The American alligator can grow to be fifteen feet long and weigh up to a thousand pounds. Adults, whether they are predators or prey, mostly live in the Southeastern United States’ marshes and lakes. Raccoons, lizards, and invasive species like Burmese pythons regularly prey on juvenile alligators, eggs, and even adults.
12. Giant Otter
An otter species might come as a surprise on the list. South American river otters are the world’s biggest weasel species, growing up to 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) in length. The Amazon River and the Pantanal are two places where you may find them.
Giant otters live in societies where they hunt and fight off other large predators. They compete for food with huge caiman and jaguars, but they aren’t prey on other animals.
When possible, these otters will eat crabs, turtles, snakes, and caiman in addition to fish in their diets. Otters create what appear to be campsites in their hunting region, where they clear huge swaths of vegetation to construct a nest.
Because humans have been hunting giant otters for centuries, they are now an endangered species. In the early 1900s, their fur was very sought-after because of its velvety smoothness.
Most Dangerous Apex Predators for Humans
Apex predators are seldom a danger to humans, in reality it is normally the other way around, which may come as a surprise to most people. Because most of them reside in very isolated places and don’t come into touch with people for the majority of their lives, there are a plethora of reasons why this is the case
Man-eating apex predators, such as the Tsavo Lions and Champawat Tigress, have been documented in the past. These situations are unusual, to say the least. The following are approximate numbers of human deaths per year caused by each of the twelve species we’ve listed.
- Orcas (0, no documented attacks)
- (2 fatalities per year, with just around 70 non-provoked attacks by any shark species.)
- Between 1800 and 2009, there were an average of around 1800 deaths per year.
- Wolves (21 fatal attacks ever recorded.)
- Bears have a low fatality rate (40 assaults per year).
- Lions (200 deaths per year)
- Jaguars (24 deaths per year.)
- Cougars (27 fatal attacks in last 100 years)
- The Leopard Seal is the only species known to kill people.
- Komodo Dragon (5 deaths since 1974)
- Nile crocodiles kill 300 people each year, while saltwater crocodiles kill two people every year in Australia.Giant Otters (0, no documented attacks.)
The fact that not all of these apex predators are periodically attacking humans, much less killing them, should be evident from the statistics.
The fact that animals don’t hunt humans should be mentioned. This is generally the case. Animals are provoked, assaulted, or attacked out of necessity. Animals do, however, seek out, target, and feed on humans on rare occasions.
People are hunted by crocodiles, which is why they live in a habitat that has been encroached on. Crocodiles tend to stay near a village after they attack a human and realize that humans are easy prey.
1. What Happens Without Apex Predators?
Apex predators play a crucial role in ecosystem composition. The natural order would collapse if they were not present, forcing it to find a new equilibrium. Many people believe that nature will always find equilibrium and balances out, as I’ve said before. However, a balance point may be a biologically empty and barren habitat, in addition to being true.
A great example is the Yellowstone wolves. Because of concerns for cattle, wildlife populations, and general fear of wolves, humans hunted them to extinction in the Yellowstone region.
2. Are Humans Considered Apex Predators?
Humans have been removed from the food chain by various factors, such as urban insulation, dependence on agriculture, domestication of food animals, and technological advancement. Other animals don’t choose us as a preferred meal, and we may eat whatever we want. Humans, on the other hand, are removed from the ecosystem and do not occupy a niche.
We do, of course, have a huge influence on ecosystems. Humans have the greatest effect on ecosystems, causing pollution, overhunting, and habitat destruction.
We removed ourselves from the food web, but then placed ourselves at the top and outside of it, which is the best way to explain humans. You walk into the kitchen and take snacks from the pantry, but then return to the living room, almost like your home’s food web.