Table of Contents
What are herbivores?
Herbivores are groups of animals that are plant eaters; they feed primarily on autotrophs (plants), and they range in size from small animals like the little insect called the aphid to the giant mammal known as the elephant.
These organisms hold a key position in the food web (this is the hierarchal description of the feeding habit of animals as they eat each other in the wild), where they are placed or grouped into nutritional levels also commonly known as trophic levels.
In the food chain, there are three (3) trophic levels. The occupants of the first trophic or nutritional level are those living things that produce or manufacture their own foods through a series of processes known as photosynthesis. Examples of the organisms that are found at this nutritional level are plants and algae.
The second trophic level is occupied by the subject topic (the herbivores) and they are known to feed on the autotrophs (plants and algae), therefore they are the second trophic level by virtue of such act (feeding on the autotroph).
The third nutritional level is occupied by organisms that consume other animals knowns as carnivores and those animals that eat both plants and animals known as omnivores. These groups of animals or organisms are said to be at the third trophic level.
Members of the 1st trophic levels (the autotrophs) are also known as producers and as the name implies they produce their own food from sunlight. Herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores are known as consumers, and animals that are herbivores are known as primary consumers because they are the first animals that eat the producers.
Furthermore, carnivores and omnivores are known as secondary consumers because they feed on the primary consumers (herbivores).
Examples of herbivores
- Herbivorous mammals
- Herbivorous amphibians and reptiles
- Herbivorous birds
- Herbivorous invertebrates
The above examples are based on the class the herbivorous animal belongs to in the animal kingdom. These examples answer the question of what animals are herbivores.
- the guinea pigs
The above-listed are some warm-blooded haired animals that feed on the producers (plant matter).
Herbivorous amphibians and reptiles
- the green iguana
These are some of the examples of cold-blooded herbivorous animals.
The above listed are feathery creatures that survive by feeding on plants.
- leaf katydid
The above-listed are animals mostly insects and any other invertebrates that feed on nectar and leaves for their survival.
What do herbivores eat?
Herbivores have different kinds of plant matter that they come across in their ecosystem. For example, one of the largest herbivore animals known as the elephant prefers to eat tree barks, small tree branches, leaves, roots, grasses, and fruits. The black rhinoceroses which are part of the examples of herbivores on the planet earth also feed on different fruits, branches, and leaves.
There are also some herbivorous animals that feed only on a specific part of a plant. For example, the oilbird feeds only on the fruits of plants and is therefore called a frugivore. This means that herbivorous animals that feed on only fruits are termed frugivores.
The Pandas, Gorillas, and the Koala which are other examples of herbivores prefer to eat leaves and shoots of trees, hence, they are called folivores. The Koala especially eats the leaves of eucalyptus trees and the Pandas eat that of bamboo.
There are many insects that feed on every part of a plant like a grasshopper, while others have certain specialized parts that they prefer to eat. For example, the Aphids drinks the sticky fluid that carries nutrients across plants known as the sap. While Caterpillars eat leaves, whereas the young wormlike forms or larvae of root weevils eat the roots of plants. Honeybees as we know, prefer to suck on nectar and feed on pollen from flowering plants, therefore, these specialized insects are known as nectivores.
in addition to what herbivores eat is the example of the Asian long-horned beetles that prefer to eat the wood of trees by drilling a tunnel to the heart of the tree where the woody part is found. Termites are also found wanting in this act of eating woody plants. Because of their preference for wood, these sets of herbivorous animals are called xylophages.
Still, on the topic of what herbivores eat, is the example of those animals that prefer to feed on dead plant materials which are called detritivores. These detritivores feed on dead decaying or decomposing organic material of algae, fungi, and animals. These detritivores like bacteria, fungi, and earthworms play a very crucial role in the food chain. Especially in the part of nutrient cycling as the breakdown and free up stored nutrients in dead organic matter in a process known as biogeochemical cycling.
There are herbivore plants especially those parasitic plants that rely on other plants for their survival. A very good example of this plant is the dodder plant. This is a parasitic plant with the vine that curls, wrap, and attaches itself to the host plant via the rootlike parts called haustoria. Through the haustoria, the dodder plant gets its nutrient from the host plants until the death of the host plant before moving to the next plant.
Features of the herbivorous animals
These plant-eaters have some physical features that enable them to eat tough plant matter and these features are necessary because the producers (autotrophs) possess tough cell walls in every part of their physical structure. These cell walls on the physical structure of the autotrophs make it hard for herbivores or omnivores to digest the plant materials.
Many animals that are herbivores have wide teeth (molars), especially mammals. These molars aid them to grind the tough plants (leaves and grasses) before swallowing them into their digestive system. Herbivorous animals have a set of dentitions that is different from that of the carnivores (with long canines used for grabbing and tearing prey).
There is a group of herbivorous animals that are referred to as ruminants. These animals have specialized stomachs that aid in the digestion of plant matter. These animals (ruminant animals) have a four-stomach chamber which is more than the one chamber that other herbivorous animals (non-ruminant animals) possess.
A quick look at the processes that are involved when these herbivorous animals (ruminant animals) eat plant matter is as follows;
- The animals (ruminant animals) eat and chew up plant matter (grass and leaves) with other materials. After chewing, they swallow these materials into the first stomach chamber.
- In the first stomach chamber, the already swallowed plant matter is further softened by specialized bacteria that function to break down the tough plant matter.
- When the plant material is soft, the animals regurgitate the food and chew it again. A good example of such an animal is the cow. The re-chewing of the food helps to further break down the already softened plant matter.
- The ruminant animal swallows the partly digested re-chewed plant matter known as cud into the second stomach chamber where it is met by chemicals.
- The chemicals in the second stomach chamber help to further break down the food. After a further breakdown, it is sent into the third stomach chamber and finally, the last and fourth stomach chamber graces the presence of the digested food. The fourth stomach chamber is similar to that of a human being.
- An example of animals that are ruminant are giraffes, cattle, deer, sheep, and camels.
Herbivores in the food chain
Many herbivores spend the majority of their lifetime feeding on plant matter. For instance, an elephant needs to consume approximately 300 pounds (130kilograms) of plant matter a day. Because of the large amount of food that this herbivorous animal needs to consume to survive, it, therefore, takes about 18 hours a day to accomplish this task. Hence, the justification of the earlier statement of an herbivore spending the majority of its lifetime to eat.
These herbivorous animals rely on plants for their survival, which means that if the population of the plants declines or diminishes, the population of the herbivores is negatively affected. This is because of the lack of enough food to go around. A good example of this relationship is seen between the population of the beavers and the plant matter they feed on at the bank of water bodies. In such a way that if the plants are removed because of human development, the population of beavers reduces likewise.
Furthermore, is the dependence of carnivores or carnivorous animals on herbivores for their survival. An example of this interaction is seen between herbivorous zebras and gazelles that travel the African savannas in great herds and the African wild dogs. Studies have shown that the declining population of these herbivorous herds due to habitat loss and fragmentation has also affected the population of the African wild dogs that hunt and feed on them.
There are also some instances that these animals (herbivores) become overpopulated due to the reduction of their natural predator the carnivores. For example, the population of white-tailed deer has exponentially increased in the northeastern United States because of the decrease of their natural predators the wolves. This decrease in the wolf’s population is a result of hunting and the ever-expanding human settlement, and as such has resulted in the overpopulation of the white-tailed deer to such an extent that they have less food. This situation has resulted in the spotting of the white-tailed deer in the suburbs and towns in search of food.
On a whole, the importance of herbivores in the food chain or web cannot be overstated but only appreciated because of the balance it brings to the ecosystem.
Are deer herbivores?
Yes, deer are herbivores because they feed on plant matter as listed under the herbivore examples.
What is the meaning of herbivores?
Herbivores means a group of animals that feed or eat mainly on autotrophs (plants) for their survival.