5 Apex Predators and Where to Find Them. Apex predators are the best of the best, at the top of the food chain, with no natural predators in its ecosystem. Think of a creature that can strut through its habitat confident and unconcerned—a lion, a snow leopard, or an orca, for example. But sometimes these animals are prey too; if humans kill off or interfere with their ecological role, other animals rise up to take on their role as the apex predator. These dominant predators often have huge ranges but small population densities.
Unfortunately, urban development and human interference can cause severe threats to their survival. In some instances, humans introduced apex predators into our ecosystems inadvertently; for instance recently dingoes were introduced into Australia around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.
Other times if humans kill off all the top end predators from an ecosystem–such as when settlers killed off wolves and mountain lions–invasive species can build up and dominate these areas. The result is loss of biodiversity in the ecosystem. The trophic cascade theory demonstrates that apex predation is vital in limiting an ecosystem’s population size for various species by regulating new births and deaths at key trophic levels. One clear example are gray wolf reintroductions into Yellowstone National Park in Montana after they were
1. Polar Bears
For thousands of years, polar bears have reigned as the top predator in the Arctic marine regions. Unlikely any other creature on the planet, they are a formidable opponent – helping them to migrate over hundreds of miles each day and to smell prey from incredibly far away.
Their massive paws are slightly webbed, and they can see prey from more than 20 miles away. Adult male polar bears are 10-feet long and weigh up to 1,700 pounds! If you step out into Churchill in Manitoba, Canada (the Polar Bear Capital of the World) to observe and photograph these species for an adventure with our Classic Polar Bear Adventure, you may come across these majestic creatures.
Cubs grow fast in Churchill, but not without their parents by their side to show them how the world works. In this land of jet-black tundra where time exists only as a mysterious alchemy of ice stacks and cold white clouds overhead, we protect together with our passionate Expedition Leaders.
We all know killer whales are highly intelligent, incredibly social and are known as the apex predator of the ocean. They’re also ruthless and cannibalistic (almost half the world’s population hangs out in Antarctica), striking at least once every 3 minutes.
In fact, these predators like to work together in teams of about 40 individuals to overwhelm their prey with coordinated attacks that sometimes result in a great white shark diving into an unsuspecting sea lion for dinner. These predators have been called the most intelligent marine mammals on Earth.
The Snow Leopard, one of the fiercest animals the world has ever known, lives at the top of mountains in a dangerous and inaccessible region. This snow leopard is an artful and adaptable species that camouflages itself cleverly among craggy rocks and deep gorges at altitude of up to 9,000 feet.
When hunting time is right, these cats strike at prey like ibex, urial and bharal, launching themselves towards their victim with rough surfaces providing extra balance. Powerful hind legs enable them to jump countless times its body lengths while cunning vision allows them to pursue their prey through dangerous terrain.
The top predator in this ecosystem compensates for injured prey by taking various other animal and plant populations in balance. Before you’ve even seen it, storms have passed over where they rested near big water reservoirs that help cleanse our planet.
There might be lingering myths that the male lion is the king of the jungle, but female lions have it all. They’re just as fast, they hunt cooperatively and they have smaller hearts and lungs than males.
One of the many misconceptions that is often made about lions is that they hunt in only one way: stalking. This is untrue, as lionesses are actually the primary hunters. The smaller size of the lioness makes her easy to hide and it enables them to be just 30% faster than their male counterparts. With relatively small hearts and lungs, lions are not particularly fast runners, and thus prefer to stalk first; they can reach a maximum speed of around 35 miles per hour for about 300–500 feet.
Additionally, lionesses hunt together cooperatively in packs in order to increase their chances of capturing prey successfully. Once the lioness sneaks up on her prey and corners it, she uses her powerful claws to maul and crush its neck, leaving it paralyzed and immobilized so she takes it back home for dinner.Male lions also hunt sometimes but when they do there’s much more straightforward strategizing involved.
They go for the big prey like buffalo or elephants and corner them strategically, counting on their weight, brute strength and iconic bravery all while taking into account the different ecosystems across Africa. Prey vary by location but may include zebra, wildebeests or gazelles.
The golden eagle is not a bird you want to hunt with. That’s because this big and aggressive avian can take down prey way bigger than itself, like the Mongolian wolf – an animal slightly smaller than these magnificent creatures. Every time they show up, they’re trying to make a name for themselves and prove that no other raptor has what they’ve got. Plus, only one in every ten Golden Eagles will have tawny feathers or a pale yellow head instead of brown or black.
Not many birds will have spike-tufts on their feathers at their toes! These birds are incredible hunters, often working in pairs and swooping down to terminate their prey with one foot around their neck and the other at the shoulder with powerful penetration.
They range from Mexico all over western North America all the way up into Alaska before reaching Europe and Asia too. There’s also a species of golden eagles found in Africa as well as Switzerland, but just barely escaped being extinct!
There’s a reason Mongolia has hunted with golden eagles for centuries: the belief that it’s an ethical way of hunting and that these birds are built for killing. The bigger and more aggressive than bald eagles, golden eagles can carry up to eight pounds during flight and fly up to 80 miles per hour, with an average speed of 28–32 miles per hour.
When focused, golden eagles have been known to reach 200 miles per hour! Since they’re often found in pairs when hunting, they drive their prey to one another or work in tandem by driving the prey to avoid attacks on one another.
heir favorite preys include other birds, marmots, hares, mice, martens, foxes and even deer. Golden eagles swoop down with their feet extended out and talons ready to deal with prey–they can attack quickly enough that you’ll only see them from the perspective of a captured animal unsure if its meal is going to continue. Three front talons face outward while the back talon (called the Hallux) comes in from behind–hit before it hits you!