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Apex Predator List: The Top 7 Predators At The Top of the Food Chain

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Some animals are just built differently than others. The ecological role they fill places them at the top of the food chain. Once they’ve grown into adults, they have little to fear from other predators. These animals are what we classify as apex predators.

What is an Apex Predator?

An apex predator is defined as an organism that sits at the top of the food chain in an ecosystem. They prey on multiple other species in their ecosystem, while (normally) having no other organisms that prey on them.

There are some exceptions in the animal kingdom when apex predators become prey, and some of them will be noted in this article. For the most part, the only threat to an apex predator is a larger individual of the same species or larger, hostile herbivores.

An apex predator does not have to be the largest animal in its environment, but in many cases, they are larger animals. Most predation of apex predator species occurs when individuals are still juveniles and therefore vulnerable ibcbet.

7 of the World’s Top Apex Predators

1. Orcas

Killer whales are the largest species in the dolphin family. They can be found nearly worldwide, with higher populations in the southern oceans near Antarctica, but also in the Arctic, off the coasts of Alaska and New England, and in African waters. In the wild, these animals can live anywhere from 30 to 90 years, reach lengths of over 30 feet (10 meters), and weigh as much as 11 tons (9,979 kilograms).

Orcas live, hunt, and play in familial groups called pods. These groups can number from just a few to over twenty individuals, and pods have been seen to group together for mating or hunting large prey.

Orcas are one of the most intelligent species on the planet. Scientists believe orcas communicate with each other to the extent of nearly having their own language. They use their intelligence to form both highly complicated hunting strategies and complex social structures.

An orca’s diet varies depending on where they live regionally, as well as learned behaviors of the pod. Some groups may almost entirely eat fish, while others feed mostly on marine mammals like seals.

After more study and observation, killer whales have essentially become the undisputed apex predator of the oceans. Recently, a pod of whales was videoed hunting and preying on the world’s largest animal, a blue whale. Aside from human hunting activity and pollution, there are basically no threats to orcas from predation.

The former top predator of the oceans was the great white shark, however, it’s been documented that orcas specifically prey on them and will eat their livers. This does bring us to our next apex predator though.

2. Sharks

In nearly any marine environment in the world, you’ve going to find species of sharks. Millions of years of evolution have left them largely unchanged, mostly because of how well-adapted and successful biological sharks have become.

At the pinnacle of the shark food chain is the great white. Growing to over twenty feet in length and weighing in at up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg), white sharks are the largest of the predatory sharks. Only basking sharks, megamouth sharks, and whale sharks grow larger, but they both feed almost exclusively on plankton.

The only threats white sharks face are from humans, larger white sharks, and orcas. They mostly feed on marine mammals like seals, stalking them from what is called kill zones. The sharks hug the deeper water, waiting for seals to venture out for food. When they do, the white sharks strike from below and behind.

Aside from white sharks though, sharks dominate marine ecosystems. Tiger sharks, bull sharks, and hammerheads all sit at the top of their respective food webs with only larger sharks as a threat.

3. Tigers

Tigers are one of the largest big cats in the world, with some specimens weighing well over 600 pounds (270 kg). You can find them roaming throughout Asia, from India and China to the polar forests of Siberia.

Unlike a lot of other big cats, tigers love the water. They’re great swimmers and frequent watering holes and rivers.

Most tigers live solitary lives and defend the vast expanses of land they claim as their territory from other tigers. While they have no natural predators, tigers prey on just about everything.

They’ve been found to feed on everything from rabbits and salmon to deer and wild boar, and even small bears.

Humans are the real threat to tigers. Over time, we’ve hunted them to near extinction for their fur, out of fear, and for their use in traditional Chinese medicine. China funds tiger farms, where tigers are bred and raised in order to be used in medical practice or for their hides. Population fragmentation, urban expansion, and habitat degradation are also threats to wild tiger populations.

4. Wolves

All types of wolves can be found throughout North America and Eurasia, mostly in temperate climates. What makes wolves apex predators is the lack of natural predators and the fact that they live in packs which allow them to take down prey much larger than themselves.

A typical wolf weighs under 100 pounds (45 kilograms). Despite their size, they live in complex social groups called packs. These are usually around eight members, however, it isn’t uncommon for large packs of well over twenty individuals to form.

Wolves aren’t picky eaters and will go after anything from rabbits to lizards. The bulk of their diet consists of hoofed terrestrial mammals like elk, bison, moose, goats, and deer. With enough members, a pack can take down the larger species of that group, but wolves are intelligent and specialize in taking down weak and vulnerable members of herds.

In environments where they meet, tigers, brown bears, and cougars all pose significant threats to wolves. In a one-on-one matchup, the wolves lose the fight. As a pack, they are able to compete over kills, but will generally simply back away when larger animals come near. Aside from Siberian tigers who will suppress wolf populations to near extinction, they have no natural predators.

5. Bears

The large, fuzzy mammals we call bears tend to dominate every environment they can be found in. Most bear species are omnivorous, feeding on everything from berries and fish to large mammals. Around the world, there are eight types of bears.

Polar bears are the undisputed king of the Arctic. They’re perfectly adapted creatures that specialize in hunting seals from platforms on pack ice. Nothing in their environment is a threat to them. As the largest bear species in the world, even if their territory overlaps with other bear species, they claim superiority. For more information on polar bears, check out our article on the Polar Bears in Alaska.

Brown bears reign over the regions south of the Arctic Circle that polar bears claim dominion over. Grizzly bears are actually a subspecies of brown bears found in inland environments. These bears can single-handedly take down moose when the opportunity presents itself but will eat a variety of foods from berries to salmon as well.

Black bears are found in larger numbers east of the Mississippi River in North America. They’re much smaller than their 600-plus pound (270 kg) cousins, usually weighing in between 60 to 300 kilograms (130 to 660 pounds), with most specimens on the lower end.

Bears regularly chase other predators away from carcasses to feed. Their size and power make them formidable foes for the other animals in their environments, and it’s usually better to flee than fight them.

The lovable and placid pandas are the only bears that aren’t considered apex predators. They live on a diet of bamboo, not meat.

6. Lions

The African lion is a symbol of strength for good reason. These sub-Saharan big cats can weigh in at up to 500 pounds (200 kg). On the African savannah, lions find little challenge as they hunt for prey among the herds of zebra, wildebeest, and antelope species.

Lions once were found throughout the African continent, but have been deemed extinct outside of sub-Saharan Africa due to a variety of reasons including a changing climate, lack of prey species, and human activity.

Typically, lions live in groups of up to fifteen, containing one to four males. They can also form smaller groups of males, small lioness groups, or prides of up to thirty lions. Their size and numbers allow them to attempt to take down large prey like water buffalo, and easily bring down animals like zebras, antelope, and wildebeest. They have one of the widest prey spectrums in Africa.

The main conflict for lions only comes from hyenas or territorial disputes with other lion prides. Hyenas and lions both target the same species for food, and will sometimes even fight for no apparent reason. Interactions are dependent on the region and learned behaviors, where hyenas will back off in some regions and chase lions off in others.

Despite this, hyenas are not major threats to adult lions and do not prey on them. Their competition for food and territory is usually won by lions, with hyenas depending on numbers to compete.

7. Jaguars

The undisputed and unchallenged apex predator of south and Central America is the Jaguar. With one of the strongest bite forces on the planet and a vast diet, jaguars are the kings of the rainforest.

A typical jaguar weighs up to 250 pounds (110 kg) and has jaws capable of crushing bone and shells. In fact, their hunting methods depend on stealth and their bite. Jaguars tend to launch sneak attacks, grabbing their prey by the skull or along the spine and puncturing through with their teeth. This is a very different hunting method from African big cats that tend to suffocate prey.

Jaguars will eat almost anything in their environment. Their favorite foods include reptiles like turtles, caiman, and snakes, but they’ll also target mammals like capybara and tapir, fish, monkeys, and birds.

In their native environment, nothing is a real threat to a jaguar. This is incredibly evident when they come into contact with people, as they aren’t afraid since they’re the ones that other animals back down from. While some have learned fear of humans, jaguars are used to being the top dog (or cat).

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