Table of Contents
- What are carnivores?
- Carnivore examples
- What do carnivores eat?
- Adaptive features carnivores
- Carnivores in the food chain
What are carnivores?
Carnivores are groups of animals that prefer to eat only meat (the flesh of other animals). These organisms or animals are sometimes referred to as predators, and the animals they hunt and kill are called prey.
Carnivores play a vital role in the food web (an illustration of which animals eat another animal in the wild) just like their other counterparts the herbivores. It is common knowledge that the animals or living things in the food chain are divided and grouped into trophic levels. Hence, there are three (3) trophic levels with carnivorous animals occupying the second trophic level.
In other words, the occupants of the first trophic level (the herbivores) are referred to as the primary consumers whereas the occupants of the second trophic level (carnivores) and the third trophic level (omnivores) are referred to as the secondary consumers or tertiary consumers.
- Polar Bear
- Venus flytrap
- Sea otter
- Blue whale
- Mountain lions
- Red foxes
The above-listed are some examples of carnivores that range from small organisms like the spider to large creatures like the blue whale.
It can be observed that all the above-listed animals are not all mammals but there are reptiles, fish, and birds. This simply means that carnivores cover different ranges and habitats and also across the whole animal kingdom.
A closer look at 5 of the most prominent examples of carnivorous animals will be taken, and these are;
- Blue whale
- Polar bear
- Venus flytrap
These are solitary big cats that are very ferocious and deadly. These cats hunt by sneaking behind their prey with the aid of their camouflaging stripes before pouncing and eventually killing their prey. The tiger needs about 40 to 85 pounds of flesh for its daily nutritional requirement.
These are among the most feared aquatic carnivorous animals. Sharks have speed, sharp teeth, and immense power that aid them in their hunt. These predatory fish are sometimes referred to as carnivorous fish and they are quite big and very deadly. The great white shark or orca has sharp piercing teeth that assist them in tearing and devouring their prey. They also swim at a speed of about fifteen miles per hour. This fish predator can smell drops of blood from a distance, approximately 3 miles.
This is the largest aquatic carnivore and the largest carnivore on the planet. The blue whale is 100 feet long (30 meters) and weighs an estimated 200 tons (180 metric tons). The blue whale feeds on shrimp-like creatures known as krill, and it does so by filtering huge gulps of water it takes. It is known that this carnivorous animal can eat approximately 4 tons (3.6 metric tons) of krill every day.
The polar bear is known as the largest land carnivore with an appetite for another carnivore known as the seals. The act of eating another carnivore classifies the polar bear as a tertiary consumer. This is a strong carnivore with huge claws for grabbing and a sharp canine for tearing and ripping apart its prey.
The Venus flytrap
This is a representative of carnivorous plants, that traps insects and eat them. The Venus flytrap is very swift in catching its prey, and when it traps its prey, an enzyme is released by the plant to properly digest the insect.
What do carnivores eat?
As earlier stated, carnivorous animals feed mostly on meat, and they get this flesh from the hunting and killing of herbivorous animals. There are carnivores that prefer to eat omnivores or even their fellow carnivores. Those that eat other carnivorous animals are termed, tertiary consumers. A good example of these carnivores is the killer whales or orcas also known as predatory fish. These predator fish hunt and kill seals and sea lions, because sea lions and seals consume flesh from fish, squid, and octopuses.
The general conclusion is that animals that are carnivores eat meat, but they (carnivorous animals) are of different types based on the amount of meat they consume.
Types of carnivores based on meat and plant percentage
- Obligate carnivores
These are animals that depend solely on flesh from other animals for their survival. This means that without the intake of meat, they risk their lives and eventually die. Animals that are obligate carnivores have bodies that cannot break down nor digest plants properly, therefore plants provide little or no nutritional value to them. An example of carnivores that are obligate by nature is a big cat like the tiger.
Animals that fall under the hypercarnivores category depend on approximately 30% of plants, fungi, and other sources for their needed nutrients. This simply means that hypercarnivores gains about 70% of their nutrients from the intake of meat. Examples of carnivores under this category are sea stars which feed mainly on oysters and clams, some big cats like leopards are also part of this category.
Organisms that fall under the mesocarnivores category, have a 50-50% nutritional requirement between meat and plants. This means that 50% of their diet is meat from other animals and the other 50% from plant matter like fruits, vegetables, and fungi. An example of a carnivore that falls under this category is the Fox. Foxes are carnivorous when there is an abundance of prey and herbivorous when prey availability is scarce.
The last type of carnivorous animal based on their diet is the hypocarnivores that require approximately 30% of meat in their diet to meet their nutritional quota. The remaining 70% of their diet is covered by plant matters such as berries, nuts, bulbs of plants, and even plant roots. A good example of a hypocarnivore is the bear species that feed on both plants and meat (fish) for their survival. Because of this habit, they are considered omnivores.
Types of carnivores based on diet (type of animals they eat)
Piscivores as the name implies are animals that feed solely and strictly on fish. These carnivorous animals do not have an appetite for anything that is not fish. The word piscivores is derived from the Latin word piscis which means fish. An example of such a carnivore is the sea lion that has a fish-only diet.
Insectivores are those that feed only on insects hence, the name insectivores. A good example of insectivorous animals is most species of bats, lizards, some other insects like ladybugs, praying mantises, and dragonflies. on a lighter note, the brown bat is known to consume approximately 1000 mosquitoes in an hour.
These are carnivores that have been documented and known to have an appetite for humans. These man-eating animals attack humans and are now dependent on the human flesh, to the extent of entering into human settlements in search of their food. Examples of these carnivores are sharks, alligators, and bears.
Cannibals are those that tend to eat members of their very own species. Many animals have been known to practice cannibalism not necessarily for food but as a way of removing competition for food, mates, or habitat range. Such practice is known as the survival of the fittest, which leaves only the strong to survive and procreate their dominant gene to the next generation. A good example of carnivores that practice cannibalism are bears and chimpanzees. These carnivorous animals will hunt and eat the young of their family members and often times their own offspring. Another example is the female praying mantis that will kill and eat their mates (males).
These types of carnivorous animals prefer to feed on the dead remains of other animals or carrion. These animals do not hunt but have sensory organs to detect the availability of a dead animal for them to come and eat. Examples of such creatures are vultures that prefer to eat dead animals from natural causes and hyenas that are ready to sneak in and snatch a kill from other carnivores. There are some insects that also fall under this category such as flies and beetles.
The importance of scavengers to the ecosystem cannot be overstated, because they act as the cleaning crew and help in the decomposition of dead matter and facilitate the cycling of nutrients within the system.
Adaptive features carnivores
- Physiological features
- Behavioral features
Carnivorous animals have some biological and physiological features that help them to live and sustain their lifestyle of eating meat. Some of these features are the presence of strong jaws, sharp and long teeth (canines) in carnivorous mammals. These features aid them in their hunt as they catch, grab and tear apart the flesh of their prey. These features differ from that of the herbivores that have big molars that they use to chew and grind up grasses and leaves.
Another important feature is the presence of sharp claws in big cats like lions, cougars, and other cats. These sharp claws are not restricted to only mammals but birds such as owls, eagles, and hawks have theirs known as talons. These carnivorous birds with sharp talons and curved beaks that they use to rip apart their prey are called raptors.
Most animals that are carnivores use their mouth to grab their prey, for example, the blue herons snatch up a fish, crab, or other sea creatures after wadding slowly through shallow water. Other animals that further show the use of mouth in their hunting experience are the toad and the sperm whales. The toad uses its mouth to catch mice while the sperm whales open their mouth to grab squid deep in the ocean.
There are other carnivorous animals that use other methods to hunt. For instance, spiders use their sticky web to capture their prey. Another method employed by carnivores is the injection of toxins into their prey with a single bite or sting. The toxin or venom works by paralyzing or killing its prey to avoid any fight that the prey will put in its defense.
Examples of carnivores that use the sting and the venom methods of hunting are snakes like the king cobras that have hollow fangs that release venom when they are injected into a prey which includes other snakes. The next example is the jellyfish that possess stingers on their tentacles that they use to paralyze any fish that swims near the tentacles. These acts are swift and sometimes unexpected by their prey.
Most times when carnivores are mentioned, our minds are cast back to animals, but there are also plants and fungi that are carnivorous in nature. These organisms have their own methods of catching their prey and gaining the necessary nutrient.
For example, the Venus flytrap is a carnivorous plant that uses its leaves to catch insects. This plant has sensitive hairs on its spiky leaves that quickly fold in two and snap shut whenever an insect brushes against the sensitive hairs, trapping the insect in the process. Another carnivorous plant is the sundew that produces a sticky material, and this sticky substance glues insects to the body of the plant, thereby feeding on it.
Apart from carnivorous plants, there are carnivorous fungi that trap microscopic warms known as nematodes with suffocating rings. These fungi consume these tiny organisms for their nutritional benefits. Examples of fungi with such carnivorous capability are mushrooms, molds, and mildew.
Carnivores in the food chain
In other to have a healthy ecosystem, it is essential that there is a balance in the population of autotrophs (plants), herbivores (plant-eaters), and carnivores (animal eaters). Due to the loss of energy during its transfer from one trophic level to another, it is expected that the members of the lesser trophic level be more than the next trophic level. This is so that the balance in the ecosystem can be achieved. To simply put, there need to be many plants, that will sustain a fewer number of herbivores and likewise, the few herbivores sustain a single carnivore.
For example, a Siberian tiger patrols a range of approximately 386 square miles (1000 square kilometers) in search of prey to sustain its lifestyle, and balance the ecosystem.
There are also instances whereby the herbivores overpopulate and pass the carrying capacity of the habitat, in essence, not enough autotrophs to go around. Such instances are a result of no natural predator (carnivores) feeding on the growing herbivore population, hence, causing an imbalance in the food chain and ecosystem at large.
Are dogs carnivores?
Dogs are naturally meant to be carnivores as it is seen with the physiological features they have (dogs have sharp teeth and claws). Ever since their domestication, dogs are now omnivores feeding on meat and plants, but there are wild dogs that hunt and feed on herbivores making them carnivores.
Are cats carnivores?
Big wild cats are classified as carnivores and they feed on meat, but just like the dog, domestic cats are now omnivores eating on both plant and animal matter.
Are humans carnivores?
Humans are omnivores which means they can survive on both meat and plant matter. But there are instances of some humans choosing to stick with strict diet plans like the vegetarians that consume only plant-based materials and there are still some humans that consume only meat. So, in answering such a question, it depends on what humans are eating that classifies them as either carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores. This also answers the question of whether humans are meant to eat meat or if humans need meat.
Are fish carnivores?
There are predatory fish, like the orcas (the great white sharks) that are carnivores, but not all fishes are carnivores because there are some that feed on phytoplankton.
What is the meaning of carnivore?
A carnivore means any organism that feeds solely on meat for its survival.
Joseph enjoys writing and learning about the fields of ecology and biology. He has experience teaching both of these subjects at a variety of universities as an adjunct professor. In his free time Joseph enjoys, surfing with his kids and going on multi-day backpacking trips.