Deceptive Creatures


The natural world has just as many thugs, thieves, cheaters, and fakers as the human world. Plants and animals are constantly evolving new strategies to defraud each other. Even as one creatures perfects a method of fooling another, the others devise counter-methods to avoid the traps.

Two of my favourite deceptive animals are the cuckoo bird and the hog-nosed snake.

The cunning cuckoo

The cuckoo often lays its eggs in the nests of other birds.

Cuckoo egg in a swallow's nest/credict/google image Cuckoo egg in a swallow’s nest/credict/google image

Can you spot the odd egg out in the picture above? It’s easy enough for us, but some birds don’t perceive colour the same way as humans. The cuckoo mother is wily enough to make sure she only hijacks nests belonging to birds which can’t tell the difference.

The cuckoo chick is just as cunning as its parent. Once it hatches, it will sometimes push the other eggs out of the nest, especially if the nest is small. In this way it ensures that it gets the maximum attention from its foster parents.

eviction credit/wikimedia commons

Though some birds are really good at spotting an impostor’s egg in their nest, most of them aren’t. The foster parent doesn’t seem to realise the trick even when the cuckoo chick has grown bigger than itself, and continues to feed it and take care of it for a long time.

426px-Reed_warbler_cuckoo credits/wikimedia commons

The few birds that are capable of spotting an impostor egg do so by noticing changes in colours, shape, size and arrangement of eggs. So, if the bird arranges the eggs a certain way and the impostor egg doesn’t fit in, it throws it out. To counter this strategy, brood parasites like the cuckoo are always trying to make their eggs less identifiable, while birds whose nests are used as a home by such parasites are constantly devising techniques to identify impostor eggs.

The theatrical snake

The hog-nosed snake’s strategies are quite different from the cuckoo’s. A timid and non-venomous snake, it tries its hardest to burrow underground and hide quickly when attacked, but if this fails, it has a range of theatrical techniques up its hood.

When attacked, the hog-nosed snake first pretends to be a cobra, and hisses at its attacker. If the attacker seems unconvinced, it starts to play dead by rolling on its back. Now, you or I would play dead by simply closing our eyes and lying very still, but the hog-nosed snake is a much better actor than us. It emits a foul smell, hangs its tongue out, and sometimes even leaves a few droplets of blood on the ground. While it’s playing dead, if you touch its mouth or fangs, the hog-nosed will continue to lay still. Then, if the attacker looks away for a moment, the hog-nosed snake makes a quick escape.

Can you tell us about some other animals that are deceptive?

The Extraterrestrial Enthusiast’s Toolkit


Sniffing For Signs


A Letter From Carl Sagan


This Planet Is Just Right!

By Nandita Jayaraj

It looked as if Dr. Dodo, Bhoo and Skree! were staring at their first failed mission. But wait…


The yellow smoke swirling out of the test tube confirmed Skree!’s fears.

“Too much sulphur!” she coughed. Planet Debris, just like the twenty other celestial bodies the Smartys had tested in the past three months, could not support life.

“I don’t get it,” said Dr. Dodo. “We did all our groundwork…”

“Now all hope rests on the last candidate,” replied a sullen Bhoo, who was swaying tiredly around the starship. Being away from Earth for a long time was clearly not suiting her. She needed to be around lots of life to stay healthy.

“We shortlisted twenty-two moons and planets,” she added. “They are neither too hot, nor too cold, and get just the right amount of light from their stars to support life…”

Dr. Dodo chipped in: “And that means they’re all in the Goldilocks Zones around their stars. What could we be doing wrong?”

“Are you sure you haven’t muddled up the equations?” grumbled Skree! under her breath.

“Yes. I’m sure, Skree!” squawked Dr. Dodo indignantly, as he set up the ship in hyperjump mode towards the last set of coordinates in their survey.

Bhoo wasn’t doing too well; her fire arm had already extinguished. For her, this had been a personal gamble. The balance that life brings with it was a matter of life or death for her. She had trusted Dr. Dodo’s investigations and followed the senior Smartys to meet with intelligent aliens.

She slunk to the spacecraft window and tried to remind herself why they were here, a hundred light years away from Earth.

Three months back, Dr. Dodo’s RadCob, designed to detect signals from extraterrestrials, had begun whirring for the first time. Naturally, the Smartys had sprung into action.

“It has become too difficult to conduct research on a grand scale on Earth. Its cities have been contaminated by the spoils of evils like Mr. X. Besides, we need the help of other intelligent beings to solve the remaining mysteries of the multiverse, ” said Bhoo to herself, as she floated back to the cockpit where her two friends were still arguing.

“The RadCob must have picked up a natural signal transmitted from a space object such as a pulsar.”

“Impossible! It was a narrow-band signal. It can only come from a transmitter that has been assembled.”


“That can only mean there’s someone out there intelligent enough to build one!”

Skree! went silent, but only for a while.

“We should have just sent back a signal, instead of packing our bags and leaving Earth in search of this ideal planet.”

“And wait 200 years for a reply? Come on, Skree!”

Skree! knew Dr. Dodo was right. She was just grumpy. You’d be too, if you’d just inhaled a whiff of sulphur. The signal had come from a planet 100 light years away, so it would take 100 years for Earth’s signal to reach there and another 100 for any reply to reach Earth.

What should be their next move? Skree! looked up to focus and let out a quiet gasp. “Dr. Dodo!” she whispered urgently. “Look!”

cover ft

It was Bhoo. She appeared to be dreaming with her eyes open, her body gently glowing golden, fiery as ever.

“She’s been low on energy for weeks!”

“This means…”

“We must be in a habitable zone again! A Goldilocks Zone!”

They were nearing their last planet candidate. Skree! quickly set up her lab equipment and did a quick scan for biosignatures*.

“All positive results!” she exclaimed.

Dr. Dodo whirred up the telescope and spotted it – a gently breathing planet not too far away. Skree! saw it, too, from behind her telescope.

A crystal blue river meandered across its surface in the shape of an ‘S’ as if welcoming the Smartys. Bhoo’s awed voice broke the silence – “Welcome… to Planet S.”

*Biosignature: Any substance that provides scientific evidence of past or present life

Toon Talk

toon talk

toon talk 2

This Is Not What You Think

story time

Wacky Aliens, Wacky Diets

life science

A Special Trophy

By Mahak Katyal, based on a story by Piyush Shah

The residents of our neighbouring galaxy are in trouble and only an Earthling named Piyush can save them

I stared at my prized possession. The engraved letters “Annual Water Balloon Champion 2015” gleamed off the trophy. I’d won it for the third year in a row.

I was lost in my own world when the lights in the living room started to flicker. As I was home alone, I was spooked at first. Gathering courage, I started looking around. A shadow in the backyard caught my eye. I tiptoed outside to check and went stone cold. Before me was a large saucer shaped object. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

My legs started moving on their own! Who was controlling them? My (were they still mine?) legs then took me to some strange-looking creatures.

“Help us. Robots have attacked us”, one of them spoke in a strange high-pitched voice.

“Me? I do not have any powers to help you!” I blurted out. “Your water balloons! They can dismantle the robot circuits,” the alien creature screeched.


The sirens in the U.F.O. started ringing. Behind it, a flying robot was nearing us. An army of robots followed.

“We’ve been attacked. Go. NOW!” the alien said, pushing me out of the U.F.O. I sprinted to my room and gathered all the water balloons I had. The aliens and I started a balloon war against the robots. After a while, it looked like we were about to lose. There were too many of them, and too few balloons left!

Suddenly, a glowing chip on a robot’s stomach caught my eye and an idea struck. I took out my slingshot and aimed it at a robot’s chip.


The robot lost control and fell into pieces. The slingshot did the trick for the rest of the robots, too. The aliens were ecstatic and thanked me immensely. When I returned to my living room, I noticed that there was a new trophy on the shelf with the words: “Warrior Prince 2015 AD”.

Ever find the real world just not exciting enough? Invent your own universe with time machines, clones, nuclear reactors, or whatever you want, and email your original sci-fi story in 200 words to (with ‘Fan Fiction’ as the subject).


Is Anybody Out There?

history maker 1

history maker 2

Copyright © Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd. ACK media. All rights reserved.