Nutrition is one of the vital functions of living beings that allows them to be grouped into different types depending on the nutritional strategies and habits that they have been developing. Thus, knowing the feeding of animals is very important to discover the roles that each species plays within the correct functioning of the ecosystems in which they inhabit. Within these complex relationships between species based on the type of nutrition, herbivorous animals stand out for their important ecological role.
What are herbivorous animals, what are they like and where do they live?
Do you want to know what are herbivorous animals and what do they eat ? In this first section we will see many of the main characteristics of herbivorous animals to get to know them more closely.
- Also known as primary consumers within the trophic networks of ecosystems, herbivorous animals are each and every one of the species of animals that feed on plants , within which are included both the different parts of plants (leaves, stems and roots); like the seeds, flowers, sap and fruits thereof. Here you can learn more about the concept of Primary Consumers: what they are and examples .
- These plant-eating animals inhabit almost every ecosystem on the planet, depending on whether there are plant resources from which they can obtain the energy they need to survive. Both in grasslands, forests, mountains, savannas, jungles, wetlands and even in aquatic ecosystems, it is possible to find herbivorous animals of different sizes, as well as belonging to the different groups of animals that exist, both vertebrates and invertebrates .
- In this way, we can affirm that herbivorous animals follow herbivorous predation behaviors and strategies, thus causing damage of different severity to the plant organisms on which they feed.
- Faced with this type of predation or herbivorous feeding, it is curious how herbivorous animals digest cellulose . For this, these living beings need to have, in addition to proper teeth and jaws for chewing vegetables, with special and effective organs of the digestive system, capable of chemically and biologically digesting (with the help of stomach microorganisms) the components of vegetables, especially cellulose , which is indigestible for other animals.
- Thus, depending on the distribution of said organs of the digestive system responsible for digesting the plant cellulose they ingest, herbivorous vertebrates are classified as monogastric and polygastric.
In the next sections we will see in more detail examples of animals from both groups, as well as other types of classifications of herbivorous animals.
There are different classifications to be able to group the various types of herbivorous animals that exist on the planet. On the one hand, depending on the type of digestive system, they differ:
- Polygastric or ruminant herbivores: the digestive system is divided into four different stomach cavities (rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum), each of which play a specific role during the cellulose digestion process.
- Monogastric herbivores: they have a single stomach in which they digest cellulose by fermenting it.
On the other hand, depending on the type of plant food that they preferentially consume, we can distinguish between herbivores:
- Phytophages: herbs.
- Frugivores: fruits. Get to know them better with this link to our article on Frugivorous Animals: Characteristics and List of Examples .
- Folivores: leaves.
- Granivores: seeds.
- Nectarivores: nectar.
- Polinívoros: Poland.
- Xylophages: wood. If you want to know more about them, here we leave you information about 7 insects that eat wood .
Examples of herbivorous animals
Do you think the giraffe is carnivore, herbivore or omnivore? Despite living in one of the habitats where more carnivorous predators exist, giraffes are one of the great herbivores of the savannas. Their characteristic long neck allows them to feed on the leaves of tall shrubs and trees, with acacia leaves being their favorite delicacy. Likewise, they are not only large, but they can be considered dangerous herbivorous animals , due to their enormous size and the aggressiveness shown by males in fights for territory or females in breeding season. The same happens with other large ones, such as elephants or hippos.
Thus, apart from the giraffe, here is a list of small and large herbivorous animals :
- Guinea pigs
- domestic goats
- There will be mountain or ibex
- Oso panda
- Leaf insects
- Stick insects
- Cabbage bugs
The differences between the types of herbivorous, carnivorous and omnivorous animals lie in their type of food or diet.
- As we have seen throughout this article, herbivorous animals eat vegetables, both plants and seeds and fruits.
- Instead, those carnivorous animals follow a diet based on predation and the consumption of the meat of other animals, whether their prey are herbivores or smaller carnivores.
- Finally, to the group of omnivorous animals belong all those animals whose diet is based on the consumption of both meat from other animals and vegetables. We recommend this other post to learn more about What are omnivorous animals with examples .
- Directly related to their type of diet, these three groups of animals have different anatomical characteristics, such as teeth and stomach adapted to this diet.
Importance of herbivorous animals
After learning what they are, their characteristics and also seeing a list of herbivorous animals, as well as a comparison with animals that have other types of diet, we can only talk about their great importance.
As we saw at the beginning of the article, herbivorous animals are the primary consumers within food chains. As such, primary consumers feed on producer organisms (plants), in turn serving as a food source for omnivorous and carnivorous predators ( secondary consumers and tertiary consumers ).
Thus, as fundamental links in the food chain of each and every one of the world’s ecosystems, herbivorous animals are of vital importance for maintaining their ecological balance .