While it is generally known that carnivores are meat eaters, most people aren't sure of the exact characteristics that define these animals. If you're wondering what exactly a carnivorous animal is, you should know that it is an animal that fills its nutritional needs by consuming animal tissue, which means it eats other animals. We often forget that carnivorous animals eat amphibians, insects and other invertebrates as well as mammals, birds or fish. Not all carnivorous animals are hunters or predators, as some carnivores are scavengers.
Not all carnivores exclusively eat animal tissue either, as some of them supplement their diet in other ways. Moreover, not all animals that eat animal tissue are carnivores. Finally, not all carnivores are animals, as you can find carnivorous plants and fungi too. Are you looking for examples of carnivorous animals? If you want to learn more about carnivorous animals along with examples and fun facts, stay with us at AnimalWised and read on!
You may also be interested in: Herbivorous Animals: Examples and Fun Facts
- What is a carnivorous animal?
- What kinds of carnivorous animals exist?
- Ecological importance of carnivorous animals
- What are the most common traits of carnivores?
- Examples of carnivorous mammals
- Examples of carnivorous birds
- Examples of carnivorous reptiles
- Examples of carnivorous fish
What is a carnivorous animal?
As we said before, a carnivorous animal consumes animal tissue - flesh, bones, organs - in order to feed and gain energy. Depending on the kind of animals and kind of tissue they eat, carnivores can be classified into types that include the following:
- Avivores: consume birds
- Insectivores: consume insects
- Hematophages: consume blood
- Ovivores: consume eggs
- Piscivores: consume fish
- Vermivore: consume worms
Not all carnivores feed the same way. Carnivores are also classified into two types depending on how they obtain or find their food:
- Predators: a predatory animal hunts the prey it is going to consume. Most carnivorous animals kill their prey, but some carnivores, like mosquitoes, are grazers. While it seems logical that predators are usually bigger than their prey, some carnivores like lions, wolves, piranhas and ants are social predators that team up to bring down larger animals.
- Scavengers: scavenger carnivores consume dead animal tissue. Finding carrion requires time and effort, and so only vultures are exclusively scavenger carnivores. Most scavengers combine scavenging with hunting, becoming opportunistic feeders.This means they hunt if they have to, but if they find already-killed prey they will take advantage of it. Some of these carnivores include coyotes, lions, lizards, bears and crows.
What kinds of carnivorous animals exist?
Carnivores are usually presented as the opposite of herbivores, or animals that eat an exclusively vegetable diet. However, as we said before, carnivorous animals do not necessarily eat only meat, and they often complement their diets with fungi, fruits, vegetables, nectar or other substances. This is not the case of obligate carnivores, the so-called true carnivores, whose reliance on animal tissue is almost total.
Obligate carnivores adapt to an exclusively carnivorous diet when their habitat - including its climate and geography - forces them to do so. For instance, unlike other bears, polar bears are obligate carnivores because there is no vegetation in their habitat.
Depending on the composition of their diet, carnivorous animals can be classified like this:
- Hypercarnivores: Their diet consists of more than 70% meat. Examples include cats, eagles, salmon, sharks and owls.
- Mesocarnivores: Their diet consists of 50-70% meat, and they have evolved different kinds of teeth to consume different types of organic matter. Examples include badgers, dogs, ferrets, foxes and weasels.
- Hypocarnivores: Their diet consists of less than 30% meat, the rest being anything from fruits and fungi to nectar. Since their teeth fulfill different functions, including chewing hard vegetables, their molar teeth are wider and flatter. Most hypocarnivorous animals are considered omnivores. Examples of such omnivorous animals include black bears and us humans.
Ecological importance of carnivorous animals
Depending on their place in the food chain, carnivores can be apex predators. This is the name given to the predators at the highest trophic level, that is, those who prey on others but aren't preyed on. Apex predators also feed on other carnivores, the so-called mesopredators that rank in the middle of the food chain. For instance, bears feed on carnivorous fish like salmon.
Most carnivorous animals, especially apex predators, play a very important role in maintaining the balance in their ecosystem. They keep the population of other animals, such as herbivores, in check by reducing the risk of overpopulation and allowing other species of both plants and animals to flourish. This helps preserve diversity in the ecosystem. A classic example of an ecologically important apex predator is the gray wolf. The wolf is a carnivore that hunts large herbivores such as elk or moose, thus preventing overgrazing and creating a wider habitat for other animals.
Other examples of apex predators include the Bengal tiger and the saltwater crocodile, but also more unexpected carnivores like the honey badger or the lion's mane jellyfish. Keep in mind that if you take an apex predator out of its natural ecosystem and place it in another, it may lose its place at the top of the food chain.
What are the most common traits of carnivores?
In order to be able to chase, hunt and eat other animals, carnivores have evolved particular traits. While these physical characteristics are not absolute, it is generally true that carnivorous mammals have evolved sharp teeth - like carnassials - and claws, while birds of prey have evolved sharp talons and beaks, which fulfill a similar function. Carnivorous predators also tend to have front-facing eyes and binocular vision for better depth perception during a chase. As they don't have to digest cellulose - which takes ruminant animals a long time - carnivores have shorter digestive systems.
Other carnivores have evolved special traits that allow them to hunt better. Some of them inject venom or secrete poison, while others have learned to hide in their environment (camouflage) or pass as other animals (mimicry). However, the main prey of these highly specialized animals have also evolved similar characteristics, complicating this high-stakes hide and seek game.
This does not mean that carnivorous animals are always on the prowl for food. When properly fed, even the fiercest predators will let prey animals pass by without bothering them.
Examples of carnivorous mammals
As we have said, carnivorous mammals are known for their claws and the sharp cutting teeth - or carnassials - on either side of their jaw. Differences in the size and shape of these and other teeth indicate the different prey and foods consumed by each carnivorous mammal species. They are also known to have an excellent sense of smell, and keen vision and hearing, all of which are useful for hunting prey.
As you can see, there is huge variation in sizes and habitats among different mammal carnivores. If you are looking for examples of carnivorous mammals, here are some of the most well known:
- Fish-eating bat
- Little brown bat
- Polar bear
- Tasmanian devil
Examples of carnivorous birds
Carnivorous birds - often called birds of prey or raptors - primarily use their talons for killing prey, and their sharp beaks for ripping and eating. Much like with teeth in mammalian carnivores, the shape and size of raptor's talons indicate the techniques they use for immobilizing prey and therefore provide clues as to the animals that make up their diet. Here are some examples of carnivorous birds or birds of prey:
- Baikal teal
- Bald eagle
- Golden eagle
- Road runner
Examples of carnivorous reptiles
Most reptiles are carnivorous. Some types of sea turtles, such as the green turtle, are carnivorous during their youth and development but eventually develop an omnivorous diet. Carnivorous reptiles usually eat small mammals, birds, insects and other reptiles. Here are examples of some common carnivorous reptiles:
- Bearded dragon
- Komodo dragon
- Leopard gecko
Examples of carnivorous fish
Carnivorous or predatory fish eat other fish or meat. These carnivores are known for their rows of sharp teeth, designed to puncture their prey. As with other carnivores, the intestines of carnivorous fish have developed to process their high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Some fish are also omnivores, consuming pant matter to supplement their carnivore diets. Are you looking for examples of meat-eating fish? Here are some examples of fish carnivores:
- Cookiecutter shark
- Great white shark
- Whale shark
As for other types of animals, such as amphibians, you should know that almost all adult frogs are carnivorous. Some insects, like ants and yellowjackets, also consume animal tissue. Scorpions and spiders are other examples of carnivorous animals.
Now that you know exactly what carnivorous animals are, some fun facts about carnivores and examples of carnivorous animals, why not tell us which ones are your favorites?
If you want to read similar articles to Carnivorous Animals: Examples and Fun Facts, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.
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