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8 Types of Animals That Swallow Their Food Whole

Over 8.7 million creatures live worldwide, and it’s no surprise that they each have their own unique ways of feeding. You might observe some animals enjoying their meals by taking small bites, while there are animals that swallow their food whole. These amazing creatures don’t require chewing to savor their meals. Instead, they possess unique methods for effortlessly fitting their prey into their mouths and down into their stomachs. 

animals that swallow their food whole photo collage

8 Animals that swallow their food whole

Let’s explore some of the amazing animals in this category, from snakes that devour prey much larger than themselves to birds that can gulp down entire fish in one go. 

1. Snakes

Snake eating frog
Snake eating frog | image by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Serpentes

With over 3,000 species worldwide, it’s most likely that the first animal you’ll ever see swallowing a whole prey are snakes. When hunting, snakes ambush their victims and use venomous injections or constriction to suffocate them until they die.

These limbless creatures lack the appropriate teeth to chew their prey, so they typically swallow them whole without any chewing. Once the prey enters the snake’s stomach, it undergoes digestion for several days. The digestion duration depends on the snake’s body temperature, as warmer temperatures lead to faster digestion. 

2. Frogs

Frog eating snake
Frog eating snake | Image by Sheikh Nafis from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Anura

With over 6,000 species, frogs are among the most widespread amphibians on the planet. These animals demonstrate a high level of skill as they can perform a wide range of movements, including leaping, running, gliding, burrowing, climbing, and even swimming.

They typically eat small invertebrates like insects, crabs, spiders, mites, worms, snails, and slugs, but you might come across some large ones eating other frogs, fishes, and even reptiles such as snakes. When they eat, their eyes move downward into the mouth and help push the food further down their throat.

3. Owls

Barn owl with tasty dinner
Barn owl with tasty dinner | image by Eddy Van 3000 via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Strigiformes

Owls are a well-known species of birds that possess large eyes, a flat face, and the remarkable ability to rotate their heads and necks up to 270°. Because they’re carnivorous, owls are one of the prey birds that many other species fear.

Owls use their sharp talons and beaks to kill their prey, and once captured, the owl swallows the prey whole, as long as it’s not too big for the owl to handle. However, you may notice that these birds of prey regurgitate their food because they can’t digest fur, teeth, bones, or feathers. 

4. Monkfish

Monkfish
Monkfish | image by RYO SATO via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Lophius

You may come across the monkfish, also known as the frogfish, while exploring the vast Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Their unique appearance makes it easy to identify them from other fishes as they have a large, broad, flat, and depressed head, along with a very wide mouth.

Monkfish are ambush predators and use their modified spine on their heads as a fishing pole to lure small fish toward their mouths. Once the predators capture their prey, they’ll trap them in their strong jaws and continue to consume them without chewing. 

5. Herons

Great blue heron carrying a snake
Great blue heron carrying a snake | image by USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Ardeidae

Herons are bird species with long necks and legs that make them stand out. You can often spot them in freshwater and coastal habitats, feeding on many animals, such as fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic insects.

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When it comes to hunting, herons employ various techniques to capture their prey effectively, including ambushing, snatching, and even slowly walking toward the prey. Thanks to their highly acidic stomach, these animals can consume their prey whole, including their bones. The acid in their stomach effectively softens the bones, ensuring that the heron remains unharmed. 

6. Whales

Humpback Whale breaching
Humpback Whale breaching | image by National Marine Sanctuaries via Flickr

Scientific Name: Cetacea

Whales regularly come to the surface to breathe air, making them among the unique aquatic creatures you’ll encounter. They have a carnivorous diet and are opportunistic feeders, and although some have impressive sizes, they primarily target small fishes and crustaceans.

Their digestive systems are compartmentalized, like cows and hippos’, and regardless of whether they’re eating one fish at a time or thousands of plankton, their prey is always swallowed whole. 

7. Pelicans

Pelicans eating fish
Pelicans eating fish | image by Caroline Jones via Flickr

Scientific Name: Pelecanus

The pelican, which is an animal with a large throat pouch underneath its beak, is another type of magnificent bird that’s known for consuming its prey in whole. There are currently eight species of pelicans found all around the world, and they primarily feed on fish, although they’re known to have a diverse diet that includes amphibians, turtles, and even small mammals if they happen to be available.

As water birds, they use their pouches to scoop fish out of the water and then drain the water out of the pouches, leaving the fish behind so they can swallow them whole. 

8. Sharks

Great white shark breaching
Great white shark breaching | Image by MLbay from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Selachimorpha

Sharks are creatures that earned their reputation as some of the most fearsome apex predators in the vast ocean. Some species are solitary hunters, while others enjoy being in groups.

These carnivorous animals primarily consume meat, although some have a unique feeding strategy as filter feeders, nourishing themselves with small plankton and fish. You’ll see these animals swallowing their food whole without even chewing it, but when it comes to larger prey, these animals tear them off sizable chunks first before consuming them. 

Sources:

  • “Banner – Great Blue Heron”, Trevor Zoo, millbrook.org
  • “Monkfish”, NOAA Fisheries, Updated: August 11, 2023, fisheries.noaa.go