Nature's Dominators: 4 Surprising Apex Predators

What do giant otters, electric eels, coconut crabs, and Komodo dragons all have in common? They’re all situated at the very top of their foot chains!

Sep 20, 2023By Natasha Elder
surprising apex predators

When one thinks of apex predators, powerful animals such as lions, bears, wolves, and killer whales come to mind. But many other apex predators are roaming the animal kingdom, several of which are surprising and don’t get the recognition they should. In this blog post, you’ll be introduced to 4 unusual apex predators – almost all of them will surprise you!

1. Giant Otter

giant otter river otter swimming
Image credit: dp1616 from Pixabay 

Apex predators are animals that are at the top of a food chain and have no natural predators to prey upon them. With this definition in mind, people immediately associate the term “apex predators” with ferociously fierce animals including bald eagles, lions, tigers, great white sharks, and killer whales – they certainly don’t think of the seemingly innocuous giant… otter?!

Despite its objectively adorable appearance, the rare giant otter is an impressive apex predator with an equally impressive appetite. The giant otter feasts on an array of prey, including catfish, caimans, perch, cichlids, turtles, and even small snakes and piranha (and, while we’re at it, no, piranhas don’t eat humans!)

Giant otters, which are also known as water jaguars and the river wolf depending on where you are in the world, are peaceful and relatively relaxed when left alone. But when threatened, they become extremely aggressive and territorial. The giant otter is a fantastic hunter thanks to its webbed feet and powerful tail. Giant otters have no known predators or enemies, but because of their velvety-soft fur, they are unfortunately endangered. This makes humans their biggest threat.

2. Electric Eel

electric eel underwater knifefish
Image credit: A-Z Animal

There are many facts about electric eels but one that people either forget or don’t know is that they’re mighty apex predators. This iconic creature uses its incredible ability to generate powerful electric fields to hunt down its prey of the day. Electric eels also have another surprising tool in their arsenal: they are seriously skilled jumpers!

Juvenile electric eels will fill up on insects and small invertebrates including freshwater shrimp. In addition to all of the above, mature electric eels are known to eat fish, crustaceans, and amphibians.

Wisely, few animals are brave enough to take on an electric eel, and as such these slippery serpentine fish do not have any natural predators. The only real threat to electric eels is being fished by humans. People in areas like the Amazon will eat electric eels, although not often as it doesn’t provide much nutritional value due to its bony build. Away from remote tribal villages, some people will eat electric eel for novelty and shock value, but this is not common practice.

There are several suitable fish for beginner fish keepers, and the electric eel is not one of them. Experienced fish keepers and aquarists will keep electric eels as pets, but this is not encouraged as they are dangerous, extremely difficult to care for, and can easily outgrow even the largest of tanks.

3. Coconut Crab

coconut crab atop leaves
Image credit: Wikimedia

Next up is the coconut crab. Also known as the palm thief or robber crab, this curious creature is the largest terrestrial arthropod alive. Fully grown, these creepy-looking crabs can weigh up to 9 pounds and measure in at just over 3 feet. With gigantic measurements like that, it’s no real surprise that the coconut crab is an apex predator. But what exactly does the coconut crab hunt?

Coconut crabs chow down on an assortment of nuts, seeds, pith, and – you guessed it! – coconut and other fruits. On top of these, coconut crabs will also eat carrion, which is defined as the decaying flesh of dead creatures, as well as tortoise hatchlings, birds, rats, and other crabs. Talk about a varied diet.

Its gigantic size and super strong pincers make the coconut crab an impressive hunter, but its well-developed sense of smell and climbing ability elevates this land-dwelling crab to apex predator status. The coconut crab is at the very top of its food chain, and the only thing they have to fear is other coconut crabs and hungry humans.

4. Komodo Dragons

komodo dragon sunning rock grass
Image credit: Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

And finally, the legendary Komodo dragon is a fearsome apex predator that is often forgotten about. The Komodo dragon is incredibly strong with its impressive, armored scales and 60 terrifyingly sharp serrated teeth. When fully grown, a Komodo dragon can measure in at up to 10 feet and tip the scales at a whopping 360 pounds! But it’s not just its huge size that makes it such an adept apex predator, Komodo dragons also have a powerful sense of smell and produce venomous saliva.

Komodo dragons have mighty appetites. After a massive meal (think up to 80% of their body weight in a single sitting!) they are known to start sunning themselves to aid in digestion and prevent their meal from rotting inside them (what a pretty picture!). Due to their super slow metabolism, they can survive on just a single meal per month. So, what’s on the menu?

Surprisingly, these massive brown monitors mainly eat carrion. While in essence, the Komodo dragon will eat whatever carrion its strong sense of smell leads it to, it is also an ambush predator. A Komodo dragon will wait for an animal to approach, charge at it in a sudden burst of speed, and then bite it in the throat or underside. If the initial bite is not lethal and the prey gets away, the venomous saliva will finish the job and the Komodo dragon will simply sniff out the dead or dying animal.

When in ambush mode, Komodo dragons have a buffet of prey options available to them, but they have specifically been known to attack pigs, goats, deer, horses, wild boar, water buffalo, and even their fellow Komodo dragons. On the list of reptiles to avoid, the Komodo dragon is right at the top – in true apex predator style.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership