All animals fall into 1 of 3 categories based on what they eat. These are herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. There are over 4000 species of herbivores on this planet living on every continent, which is what we’re going to talk about in this article. More specifically we’ll be looking at 19 examples of herbivores, and learning a bit about each one.
What is a herbivore?
To put is as simply as possible, herbivores are animals that don’t eat any meat. They get 100% of their energy from a plant-based diet. This may include, but isn’t limited to, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grasses, roots, algae, or other types of foliage.
Like carnivores and omnivores, herbivores play a crucial role in the food chain. While the herbivores eat plants and plant material, carnivores eat the herbivores, and the omnivores can eat both. Herbivores are known as the primary consumer since they eat plants, while the carnivore is known as the secondary consumer.
Any animal that feeds on both the primary and secondary consumers is known as the tertiary consumer. In most cases the tertiary consumer is a carnivorous apex predator, but may also be an omnivore.
19 examples of herbivores
Koala’s are native to Australia, and live only in eucalyptus forests. They are able to digest the leaves of gum trees, which are too toxic for many animals to eat. However they are only able to absorb a quarter of the fiber they eat, which means they have to eat a lot of leaves to get all the nutrients they need. All this digesting also requires a lot of sleep, and Koala’s can sleep up to 18-20 hours a day. While you may have heard the term “koala bear”, Koalas aren’t actually bears. They are marsupials, which means their babies spend time developing in the Koala’s pouch before they are able to survive separate from their mother. Young, called “joeys” stay in the pouch for 6-7 months, living off their mothers milk. Koalas have 2 opposable thumbs on each front paw that help them grip branches and climb trees.
The hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal behind elephants and rhinoceros. There are five subspecies, all residing in different parts of Africa. These huge animals can average 3,300 pounds, and actually spend a lot of their time in the water. Their eyes, ears and nostrils are all found along the top of the head, to allow hippos to rest in the water with most of their body submerged. Spending so much time in the water gives their short legs a break from carrying around the weight of their bodies, as well as helps keep them cool and protects their hairless skin from the sun. Hippos main source of food is short grasses. They leave the water around dusk and spend a few hours grazing on grass.
3. Giant pandas
Panda bears are native to south central china, and today only exist in a few mountain ranges due to deforestation of the lowland area it once used to occupy. The pandas now rely on us preserving the habitat they have left in order to survive, and thus are an endangered species. Pandas are folivore’s, meaning they specialize in eating leaves. While they do occasionally eat meat or eggs and therefore aren’t 100% an herbivore, 99% of their diet is bamboo shoots and leaves.
Giant Pandas can measure 4-6 feet long, weigh 150 – 350 pounds and live about 20 years in the wild. They live a mostly solitary life until it is time to breed, especially females who will chase other females out of their territory. Pandas usually give birth to two cubs, but due to limited milk supply and the energy it takes to care for them, often only the strongest cub survives. The cub will stay with mom for up to three years.
Elephants win the title of largest land animal. There are currently three subspecies, two from Africa and one from Asia. African bush elephants are the largest, at up to 11 feet tall and weighing up to 14,000 pounds. Their long trunks, white tusks and long flapping ears give them a very distinct appearance. They use their long trunk to breath, bring food and water to their mouth, and to grasp objects. The large white tusks can be wielded as weapons, but also can be used to dig and move objects.
It takes a lot of food to fuel an animal this size, and elephants spend most of their day looking for food. They will eat 100-200 pounds of plant material each day. Females live in family groups that can include her offspring and other related females and their offspring. Adult males, however, live alone after reaching puberty or in groups with other males. Elephants are considered to be very intelligent, and have amazing memories.
Rabbits can be found all across the world, and are perhaps best known for their long ears and ability to hop and run. Their long ears not only help them to hear predators, but also as thermoregulation (a way to disperse heat from the body). Rabbit’s diets consist mainly of grasses, flowering plants and leafy weeds. Most of their digestion happens in a portion of their large intestine called the cecum. Their cecum’s are 10 times larger than their stomach, and allows their digestive system to separate fibrous material (which is excreted as waste) from more nutritious materials that contain minerals and vitamins.
Rabbits are an important prey animal to many larger predators, in part because of their ability to reproduce. They are mature enough to reproduce as early as 3-8 months old, and are able to conceive any time of year instead of waiting for a fertile season. Rabbits have historically been an important animal to humans for both their meat and fur.
The name rhinoceros comes from the ancient greek for “nose horn”, referring to the one or two horns that grow on top of the rhino’s nose. These horns are made from keratin, like our hair and fingernails, and are not bone. They will continue to grow throughout their life. There are five species of Rhino, two native to Africa and three native to southern Asia.
Rhinos are one of the largest land mammals, for example the white rhino can weigh 4,000 – 5,000 pounds. This huge body is fueled by an all-plant diet of grass, twigs, leaves, bark, fruit and roots. They have a great sense of smell and hearing, but poor eyesight. These large animals are sometimes prey to crocodiles, big cat species and hyenas, but their biggest predator is unfortunately humans. Rhino poaching continues to be a huge problem. They are mainly hunted for their horns, which are used in traditionally medicines, aphrodisiacs, and as dagger handles.
7. White-tailed deer
White-tailed deer are native to North America, Central America and parts of South America. They have also been introduced to many other countries. Their diet can vary by season and habitat. Some main food sources are shoots, leaves, cacti, grasses, fruit, acorns and clover. They have a four-chambered stomach that allows them to digest this variety of food.
White-tailed deer are an important prey source to larger predators such as wolves and cougars, and a good source of carrion for scavengers like vultures and foxes. One of their defenses is their speed, being able to run nearly 50 miles per hours. They can also jump up to 9 feet straight up and 30 feet forward. Male’s begin to grow antlers in the spring, and they will continue to grow during the breeding season and then shed them during the winter.
Giraffes, which are native to Africa, are easy to identify and very unique looking with their extra long legs and neck. A full grown giraffe can reach just under 19 feet tall! While it is not known for sure why they grow their necks so long, it is believed that it has to do with competition for food. They are able to reach much higher up into a tree canopy for leaves than any other leaf grazing land animals in their habitat such as kudu and impala. Giraffes eat about 75 pounds of food a day, grazing on trees and bushes. They often live together in all male or all female groups between 1 – 66 individuals.
Did you know that humans began domesticating horses as early as 4000 B.C.? We certainly have a long history together. Horses are adapted to run and have excellent balance. They can even sleep standing up. Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal, which are placed on the sides of their head, giving them a wide field of view and the ability to see 350 degrees by turning their neck. Compared to humans, they have a smaller stomach and larger intestines, which help them process their diet of plants and grasses and give them a steady flow of nutrients. They will eat about 15-25 pounds of food per day.
Kangaroos, native to Australia, are marsupials. Their large and strong hind legs are what give them their ability to be so good at leaping. Their long tail is muscular and used for balance. Kangaroos are actually the only large animal that move around by hopping. On average they hop around 15 mph but can hop as fast as 45 mph over a short distance. While all kangaroos are herbivores, different species have different diets. Grey kangaroos eat mainly grasses, while Red kangaroos include many shrubs. The hottest part of the day is spent lounging in the shade, where feeding mainly happens at dusk at dawn.
Cows, or cattle, can be found throughout the world, often raised as livestock and used for milk, meat and their hides. There are many different species of cattle, but they are all ruminants. Ruminants are herbivores that are able to get nutrients from plants by fermenting it in a special stomach before digestion. Cattle have four compartments in their stomach to facilitate this process. While cattle feed, much of the food is swallowed without chewing. Later, the cattle will regurgitate this food that it stored in one of its stomach compartments, and then chew it and swallow it again. They are grazers that will roam the pasture feeding on grass and other low growing plants. On farms they are often fed hay and other supplements.
Caterpillars, which are the larvae stage of butterflies, eat plant leaves. In fact, many are known for having huge appetites and can kill trees and crops by doing too much damage to the plant. Once caterpillars have transitioned to their adult form as butterflies, their main source of food shifts from leaves to flower nectar. Because butterflies spend their adult lives going from flower to flower, they are considered important pollinators. It is true that with 17,500 species of butterflies in the world, there are some exceptions and some butterflies may get nutrients from carrion or animal feces, but the vast majority of their diet is only plant material.
13. Canada geese
The Canadian Goose is native to North America, but has been introduced to many other countries. These geese have an uncanny ability to adapt to living near humans, and are known to love urban parks, golf courses and housing developments built around ponds. A large goose, they have an average wingspan of 50-75 inches. Canadian geese eat grasses, grains, and even aquatic plants like seaweed. They nest near water such as streams, lakes and ponds, and will have 2-9 goslings who will stay with them for 6-9 weeks, or until after spring migration.
The domestic goat, of which there are 300 different breeds, are important animals around the world for their milk, meat, fur and skins. Most goats have two horns, made of bone, protruding from the top of their head. Just like cows, goats are ruminants with a four-chambered stomach for digesting tough plant matter. Goats are considered “browsers”, feeding on leaves, shoots and fruits from trees and shrubs. Goats will chew and taste anything they think may be plant matter to decide if it is good to eat, which may give them the reputation for “eating anything”. They won’t eat just anything and don’t eat inedible objects, but they may taste them in their mouths first just to be sure.
There are three species of zebra that live in central and southern Africa. The zebra’s striped pattern is unique, and individual to each particular zebra. Recent evidence suggests their stripes actually help protect them from biting flies. Zebra’s are grazers, foraging for food along the ground such as grasses and sedge. They can also eat leaves, buds, fruit and roots if grasses are scarce. A lot of their time is spent feeding, up to 80%, and they can survive on low quality food for awhile if they need to. Their main predators are lions, cheetahs and hyenas.
Grasshoppers are probably best identified by their long back legs that bend up behind them like a triangle. These powerful back legs allow them to leap long distances to escape predators. These herbivores are mainly grass eaters, including several types of cereals that are grown for commercial crops. This can be a bit of a headache for farmers but it is usually not a big problem unless a locust swarm forms. Locusts are a type of grasshopper that, under the right environmental conditions, can form huge swarms that can wipe out entire crops. Written descriptions of locust swarms have been found all the way back to the ancient Egyptians.
17. Green sea turtle
Green sea turtles can be found in tropical and subtropical seas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. They can migrate long distances between feeding and breeding grounds. Females will drag themselves up onto the beach and dig a hole in the sand to lay their eggs. Juvenile green sea turtles are carnivorous and will eat fish eggs, mollusks and jellyfish. However, as they reach adulthood their diet shifts to vegetation and most adult green sea turtles eat only seagrass and algae. They can live to be 80 years old.
Sloths are native to South and Central America, where they can be found in the trees of tropical rainforests. Their limbs and long claws are adapted to make hanging and grasping easy for them, and they spend most of their life in trees and hanging upside down. Sloths always look like they are moving in slow motion. One reason for this is to conserve energy, since their diet of leaves does not provide much energy and they have a very slow metabolism. Another reason is to avoid detection from predators such as hawks and big cats. Three-toed sloths are herbivores and eat only leaves from specific trees, whereas two-toed sloths have more variety in their diet which can sometimes include insects and lizards.
There are two species of beaver, one found in North America and the other in areas of Europe and Russia. Their diet consists of grasses, sedges, aquatic plants and tree bark. Long from incisor teeth act like a chisel and make chopping through wood an easy task. Beavers webbed back feed and large paddle-like tail allow them to move swiftly in the water. Using tree branches, mud and vegetation, beavers build both damn and lodges. Dams are used to block the flow of water and create a flooded wetland, and lodges are used as shelters. The creation of wetland areas has a big impact on the surrounding ecosystem, making beavers a keystone species.