shark and pufferfish artwork

Close Encounters

By April Pulley Sayre; Art by Debbie Palen

What happens when two wild animals come face to face? It all depends on what’s going on and who’s involved.

animal encounters art
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Rub! A lion returning to its own pride (family group) may rub its head along the necks and sides of other lions. Mothers and cubs, fathers and sons—even full-grown brothers or sisters—greet each other this way.


Drink! When threatened, skunks fluff up, stamp their feet, and growl. If that doesn’t work, they lift their tails in warning. They shoot their stinky spray only as a last resort. But sometimes skunks get along just fine with other kinds of animals, including raccoons. So, if the raccoon is cool, the skunk is cool, too.


Show! A slow-swimming pufferfish cannot outswim a speedy shark. But it can show a shark that it is not an easy target. When threatened, the pufferfish gulps water to puff up, turning into a big, spiky balloon. That should convince the shark to say, “never mind.”


Share! Wild wolves often live in family groups called packs. When pack members hunt together, they may “wolf” down what they catch together. Or some may eat first while others wait their turns. Scientists who have studied captive wolves discovered that those wolves are better at sharing food than pet dogs are!

animal encounters art
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Just be! Zebras live together in groups called herds. But they often hang out with other grazers, including wildebeest and other kinds of antelopes. The extra sets of eyes help all the animals stay tuned for lions, hyenas, or wild dogs that might be on the hunt. If any animal in the group senses danger, it can alert the others.


Ride! Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, are harmless plant-eaters and awesome swimmers. Sometimes, in their wet South American home, the best dry island might be a capybara’s back. So, some animals—such as turtles, iguanas, as well as baby capybaras—often rest there. Many kinds of birds catch rides on capybaras, too—picking ticks, flies, and other pests off the furry rodents.


Follow! Morays are eels that feed on small coral reef fish. Big fish called groupers also hunt those fish, which may escape into hidey-holes in the reef. To solve that problem, a grouper swims off to find a moray and shakes its head as a signal. The eel doesn’t attack the grouper. Instead, it follows the big fish back to the hole. Then it swims in and grabs some of the little fish while others escape—right into the jaws of the grouper waiting outside.


Both! Like many other young mammals, little elephants spend a lot of time playing together. But their play may look like fighting. They lower their heads and flap their ears. They stomp or scrape the ground with their feet. And they charge each other. It’s all in good fun while practicing new skills.

➡️ Watch for wild encounters where you live. Did you ever see a squirrel and a bird approach a feeder at the same time? Watch pets, too. What happens when two dogs meet for the first time? 

Rangers: April Pulley Sayre is an award-winning author of numerous books on nature for kids, such as The Slowest Book Ever and Thank You, Earth. Find them at a library or book store near you! —R.R.

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